To appreciate greatness, at least as it happens, people don’t need to choose sides in a debate without consequence.
The Duke Blue Devils are for real. Two games have been played. Coach K has led his group to two impressive performances. The insanely touted group of freshmen, who have entered the college basketball landscape with more vengeance than Bruce Willis in a Die Hard film, are dominant.
A net-positive for the sport.
The conversation already happening around Duke’s Big 3 freshmen — Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish — is a little less inspiring.
The dynamic is not horrific. The online bickering over who of the three is the most impressive adds fuel to the college basketball dialogue. Any debate involving the sport, specifically this early in its schedule, is good for growth.
However, it’s not a sunshine and rainbows situation as far as appreciating the greatness transpiring in front of us in real time.
NBA Draft gurus will spend the next several months telling a nation why Zion Williamson is better than RJ Barrett, or the other way around, to the point battle lines will be drawn. You’ll inevitably end up downplaying a player’s excellence in order to prop up the other.
Team Zion Williamson? Not only is he an excellent athlete who can do numerous feats few on the planet can, but he’s far more explosive than RJ Barrett or Cam Reddish.
In the RJ Barrett camp? He’s the better overall player. One who can operate well in nearly all facets of the game and isn’t as reliant upon athleticism as Zion Williamson.
Caping for Cam Reddish? You see, he’s the dark horse of the group. The rarely (strawman) talked about member of the Big 3 who can stroke it with regularity.
So on and so forth and bluh, bluh, bluh. That’s their job. It’s not yours as a fan. Consequently, a thorough enjoyment can be had over such qualms, and this isn’t meant to downplay NBA folks’ jobs, though there’s no earnest reason for any of us to act as if the words said are anything other than educated guesses — at best.
It’s not operating as an opponent to those discussions as much as those incidents had are taking away from the overall experience. Not every circumstance at the college basketball level, especially while dabbling in small sample size theater, needs to be viewed through an NBA lens.
If we are to remove the lens, only viewing it from the actual standpoint that matters in November (the games being played), a true sense of joy can be had while watching the Duke Blue Devils battle whoever is unfortunate enough to land next on the schedule.
Furthermore, by only focusing on Duke’s three most dynamic players, meaningful contributors like Tre Jones and Jack White are being unintentionally belittled. After all, lost in the hoopla is how unselfish other players are compelled to be in order for those three to thrive. A realistic alternative world exists where Coach K’s incredible grouping of talent turns on each other in the name of ego.
That’s not happening. It’s unlikely to either, as it appears the four core freshmen truly care for each other. Still, that could be a narrative for plenty variations of this team, but it’s not in this universe, which is a testament to more than just the three talents receiving the lion’s share of the pub.
It’s fun to act hyperbolic. Fun with players, teams and coaches. To overreact to whatever while shoving nuance to the ground. Everyone understands that. And yet, I’d argue the approach to Duke’s rise from excellent basketball program to a relative pop culture phenomenon needs to be rooted in a better place. A place of appreciation. Not of needing to yell about why tremendous Player-A is better than sensational Player-B.
This is a college basketball program, currently filled with college basketball players, who are on a path to be the rare must-see college basketball team. Fans and media will often claim Team-X or Y are must-see television, but few actually are. This version of the Duke Blue Devils are breaking barriers, appealing to more than the die-hard fanatic.
Remove yourself from the sport’s bubble, and you’ll fine NBA and general sport fans are keen to follow this specific Duke team. Not only due to Zion Williamson, or RJ Barrett, or Cam Reddish, or Coach K, or the Blue Devils brand as individual entities. It’s because, as a collective, the greatness of talent and brands have met head-on in a way it has never before.
Appreciate this. Whoever winds up being the No. 1 prospect can be settled in time. Maybe it’s a situation where multiple players are deserving, leaving no real drop off if choosing first or third. This is all conjecture anyway.
What’s not speculative is this team. At least not through two games. The Duke Collective (patent pending) has been the best programming to happen to television since Breaking Bad. We didn’t need to put down Walter White to prop up Jesse Pinkman. Just as we don’t need to scream about which of the Duke players needs to be proclaimed the best.
That can be done when this limited series is over.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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