It’s harder for the casual sports fan to get to know college basketball players than it was from years before. It used to be the Ewings, Olajuwons, and Laettners of the court hung around a while and fans got to know them.
Years have passed by and players don’t emerge as household names like they used to. One of the big reasons, of course, is because the NBA rules have changed and players can enter the draft after one year. The other reasons are more subtle.
Players are not as recognizable as they used to be because it has, in part, become much harder to stand out as a player. It is much more rare for a player to do things that haven’t been seen in a while. The game has become so incredibly analyzed over the years that there are fewer ‘special’ players to get to know.
For the casual sports fan, college basketball has become more about finding that team to root for. In the tournament, it’s always about seeing the underdog. But, when there are no underdogs left or none on the schedule, the coach becomes a rooting figure.
Programs are more known by the face of the coach.
Tom Izzo from Michigan State always seems like a guy to root for and Bob Huggins of West Virginia has become that kind of guy, too.
Izzo seems to get the most out of his teams, eclipsing the prognosticators most of the time.
Huggins has been there so many times, but he still hasn’t been able to get a title. Over time, he has become a figure to support because it looks like his heart is in the right place.
John Calipari of Kentucky is the opposite. He’s great for Kentucky, but nationally, his image is trying to win by cutting corners by bringing in players just stopping by way on their way to the NBA.
Americans like guys with hard work ethics. Coaches get a lot of credibility when their focus is on academics and not just athletics.
Rick Pitino of Louisville is a controversial figure due to his past transgressions in the news and leaving schools before finishing what he started or fulfilling his contract.
Coach K of Duke is Coach K with so many wins that his story is getting repetitive.
Bill Self and Roy Williams of Kansas and UNC are appreciated, but boring as far as human-interest stories go.
Jim Calhoun has accomplished more than anyone would have expected with 3 championships at UCONN and he could have retired on top, but chose not to and his health issues make it uncomfortable for fans to watch him.
Gary Williams won a title at Maryland and retired with dignity and without NCAA infractions following them around, unlike Calhoun.
Jim Boeheim of Syracuse is starting to wear out his welcome. He used to be a guy to root for, but now he’s in the news too much for the wrong reasons.
Steve Fisher is one coach who has redeemed himself quite well at a lesser-known school, San Diego State University. He has brought the school some prominence in a sport it was never known for before he came. He has a compelling rebound of a story, kind of like Huggins, but with a title in his background from Michigan.
But, the guy everybody likes is Shaka Smart. He has that kind of persona and character that get casual fans excited for the college game. His school, Virginia Commonwealth, is the darling going in to this year’s bracketology.
Butler, George Mason, Gonzaga and VCU give fans hope for the ultimate underdog champion, the new Glory Road.
Having Smart and the Rams back again for the Final Four would shake up television ratings and make the 2012 tournament another thrilling ride to remember.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com