COLUMBUS, Ohio – Some sounded like future commentators.
“The team with most NBA-ready players is going to win,” said Kentwood (Covington, Wash.) senior and UCLA-bound post Joshua Smith.
Others were utterly indifferent.
“Not even going to watch it,” said Duncanville (Texas) post and Baylor-signee Perry Jones III.
Others were too loyal to even comment.
“I’m just hoping North Carolina wins the NIT,” said Ames (Iowa) senior forward Harrison Barnes, who, quite predictably, is headed to North Carolina. Most of the McDonald’s male All-Americans were picking West Virginia to win the NCAA men’s tournament and the females were just about unanimous in choosing top seed Connecticut.
“UConn, of course,” said Kaniesha Horn while rolling her eyes. She’s a senior forward for the East who starred at Ramsay (Birmingham, Ala.) and is headed to Alabama. Everyone else is playing for second.”
But this 48 elite didn’t reach this game by being meek. There wasn’t a whole lot of political correctness going on either.
And isn’t that refreshing.
“I got Butler,” said the hometown hero of this 33rd annual showcase Jared Sullinger, from down the block at Northland (Columbus, Ohio). “They’re the underdog and they’re not a normal (Final 4) basketball team. Most of these high major teams have one-and-done and two-and-done players and they don’t have the chemistry like Butler, which produces solid players but not necessarily pros. They have four-year players and that experience and just age is going to carry them to the top.”
Nice. Have a feeling some Buckeye fans might remind the 6-foot-9, 261-pound Sullinger of that remark when he applies for the NBA in a year or two. He’s Mr. Basketball in Ohio and on every All-American list after averaging 24 points and 12.1 rebounds.
Another big upset pick came from Karla Gilbert, a 6-5 forward from A&M Consolidated (College Station, Texas) who didn’t pick Connecticut in the women’s tournament.
“Baylor or Stanford,” she said. “I’ve had my eye on those two teams for a long time.”
Baylor, with 6-8 game-changer Brittney Griner in the middle, is the sleeper pick by most, but Gilbert, perhaps partial to the Lone Star State and center-driven squads, thinks the Bears are the favorite. Gilbert is signed to Texas A&M.
“Sure, they have the Texas girl (Griner) of course,” she said. “But they have great chemistry. They play great defense. (Griner) is taking care of business and the guards are back her up.”
Another Texas big man, Jones, a Baylor-signee, was rooting for a Bears’ sweep. But when the men were ousted in the South Regional final by Duke he lost interest in men’s tournament.
“If I had to pick a team, it would be Duke,” he said.
“Because they beat Baylor.”
Memphis-bound Joe Jackson also had a quick, simple explanation for his Michigan State selection.
“Tom Izzo,” he said. “That’s it.”
Jackson, a 6-foot guard from White Station (Memphis, Tenn.), has a sweet quick release on his jumper as well.
Loyalty picks stretched beyond college commitments. East assistant coach Matt Futch, who starred at Akron where current West Virginia coach Bob Huggins coached before going to Cincinnati.
“I’m a big Huggins fan so I’m going with West Virginia,” Futch said.
So is Smith, though he has no affiliation with Huggins or West Virginia. The engaging larger-than-life 6-10, 280-pound West center seems to be a good fit at UCLA near Hollywood with his engaging personality and quick wit.
His voice actually sounds a little like the actor Will Smith, though he claims no relation. Basketball is his first priority though his breakdown of West Virginia indicates broadcasting could be in the works.
“West Virginia wins the finals by five,” he said. “They just have real athletes at every position. Of the four teams left – Butler, Michigan State, Duke and West Virginia – West Virginia has the most (NBA-ready) players – the most real men.”