In most cases, the NCAA Tournament presents a lot of parity, with the exception of who can put the final wound in another team in the last 3-5 minutes of a basketball game.
There wasn’t much in common between the #6 Cincinnati Bearcats and #3 UCLA Bruins on Sunday night in Sacramento, California; the west-coasted, bright-white jerseys of the Californian college dream team of assorted scorers and NBA prospected played poison to a cluster of tight-knit, defensive-minded squad from one of the Midwest’s most midwestern cities.
Mick Cronin, who nearly left Cincinnati this summer to take a job at UNLV, led the best run of his era centered around a senior point guard in Troy Caupain, who was a four-year starter during his time in Cincinnati, a sophomore guard/forward from Louisiana in Jacob Evans III, would be a star had he committed to a marquee program, and a junior center, who was playing in his first season as a Bearcat following his transfer from North Carolina State, Kyle Washington.
After rattling of 30 wins to just 5 loses, the Bearcats suffered their final, sixth loss of the 2016-2017 season, when it failed to contain UCLA over the final 10 minutes of an otherwise inch-for-inch game, which was the catalyst for future top 3 NBA pick, point guard Lonzo Ball.
When comparing the guards in this game, you were looking at what may have been the biggest storyline/playing style variant of any two players in the game of college basketball between Troy Caupain and Lonzo Ball.
Caupain, while not a superstar in the likes of his senior PG counterpart at Kansas in Frank Mason III, has an excellent stretch of basketball under his belt. The senior exits Cincinnati with the school record for assists at 515, ahead of the likes of Steve Logan and Oscar Robertson. With no NBA future in his horizon, Caupain is likely to fade from the limelight following the crushing 79-67 loss to UCLA. Low ego, a strong base of basketball skill, and strength in leadership gave way to one of the great runs of Bearcat lure.
Opposite of Caupain, Lonzo Ball is what you could refer to as a flash in the pan for the game of college basketball, as his single season at UCLA was determined from his commitment to be the lone appearance; his NBA career is too evident for him (or his father, which we’ll get to) to pass up. The kid has a lot of game. As the x-factor in a UCLA offense that put up an NBA-like 90.2 PPG in a 40 minute college basketball game lead the nation in assists with 7.7 per with 14.7 points a night. His high ego, complexity of flash and unreal skill will give way to what appears to be an all-start caliber NBA Future.
They are different players.
If you put a gun to the head of Cronin and UCLA head coach Steve Alford and asked them to pick the best player, they would tell you Ball 100 times out 100, but if you asked them who they want to lead a team, they would without variance give you the name Troy Caupain.
Lonzo Ball is headed to the NBA to be one of the most hated players in all of basketball, in large part thanks to his father, LaVar Ball, who has acted as a one-man promotion team in the wake of his three son’s development as young basketball players.
During his press conference following the victory, Ball appeared lethargic, providing mainly basic commentary, little-to-no personality, and conducted himself in a manor of overall disengagement. His apparent disinterest in winning for the team and evident manor of self-indulgence left a bad taste in the mouths of many on my Twitter feed.
Meanwhile, as reporters, cameras, and microphones entered the locker room of the Cincinnati Bearcats, a different sort of exit interview graced us with comments from Caupain, who said, “I am an only child. Having 13 brothers I never grew up with and have them for a year or two, or three, how close we bonded, how close we got this year is special. It will go down as forever a brotherhood. We will always be able to call each other later on down in life we will see how everybody’s career is going, how life is going and that’s the best thing about it.”
The lack of personality and inflation of ego will not bode well with veterans on NBA rosters, as reflected by NBA Hall of Fame inductee Charles Barkley, the embodiment of these collective of veterans, who dawned the jerseys of Kent State and Cincinnati on CBS’s pregame shows prior to UCLA’s match-ups with the two.
We will hear a lot more about Lonzo Ball; a lot of it will be painfully smug and glamorous.
We will hear little-to-nothing about Troy Caupain; he’ll appear at Bearcat reunions or around the community, but his personality and general ability to act like a human will do more good than Ball can stand to offer.
Perhaps it can be explained by two very different parents, who raised two very different players who happen to play the same position and the same game.
Renee Caupain attended 110 out of 120 Bearcat basketball games, traveling 538 miles from her native Virginia in car, usually alone to cheer on her son, with the occasional “turn it up” hand sign, which was used to signal to Troy that he needed to fire up his team’s play.
On the other hand, there is LaVar Ball, who is selling $60 t-shirts and $100 hats in the wake of his son’s success during his 35-game stretch as a UCLA Bruin. LaVar Ball has stated his son Lonzo is better than Steph Curry, that his sons were due for a $1 billion shoe contract, and for his own promotion, claimed he would kill Michael Jordan (who you know at home as the greatest basketball player of all time) in one-on-one.
Magical seasons come to an end, as the Bearcats closed their own on Sunday night, but Lonzo Ball and his squad of 2017 NBA first round picks will take on another squad of similar-stature players (calling on you, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox), who are somehow much more likable, the Kentucky Wildcats on Friday night in Memphis, Tennessee. I will not be able to stomach another UCLA victory, but hey, I don’t write the games, I just write about them afterward.