Jared Lankford: Key characteristic of great players becoming scarce

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Thursday marked the 29th anniversary of the passing of one of the greatest basketball players to grace the hardwood -- Pete Maravich.


Maravich earned the name "Pistol" from his high school habit of shooting the ball from his side, like he was holding a revolver in a quick draw competition. He was driven to be the best. He and his father invented drills to improve his skills and would spend hours practicing ball control tricks, passes, head fakes and his shots.

In just 83 collegiate games, Pistol averaged 44.2 points per contest. His 3,667 career points is a NCAA mark that still stands today.

Pistol played 10 years in the NBA, averaging 24.2 points per game and shooting 82 percent from the charity stripe during his career.

Just after his passing, I can recall my uncle and cousin's husband discussing what made Maravich great was his ability to see the floor and make his teammates elevate their games.

I watched several "Top Pistol Pete Plays" videos on YouTube this week and the majority of the highlights were him making some impossible pass to a teammate for an easy score.

While the Pistol loved to shoot and light up the scoreboard, he understood that he could not do it all by himself. He needed the four other players on the floor to be involved.

I'm not a big fan of the NBA. I will watch a little of the championship series, but will only turn the game on in the second half when the teams actually start playing. A league that contains the best basketball players in the world has become a game of one-on-one with crying and flopping on every call, or lack thereof.

To me, the purity of the sport was always found in the college realm, especially when March rolls around.

Basketball is a team sport, and the tournament shows that team ball still rules the game. Nowhere is this point driven home more than when a No. 15 seed upsets a No. 2 seed.

Even now, the college game is starting to mimic the NBA in its focus on individual skill instead of a team concept. Wanting to be what they see, the high school game and its players are also following suit.

Every coach I know still preaches the value and importance of fundamentals and teamwork on the court, yet that seems to fly in the face of what is displayed in the college and professional landscape. Teamwork, in the sense of five guys pulling for the good of the team, seems to be growing more scarce these days. A focus and premium has been placed on individuals scoring the basket. Players would rather slash through the paint and blow a layup than pass to a teammate with an open look.

More possessions equal more point-potential, which equals more individual glory. And, defense and its sweet nuances go neglected.

A coach told me once that he was more excited when one of his players drew a charge than blocked a shot.

"Everyone 'oohs' and 'ahhs' with the big block shot out of bounds," he said. "But you know what? It's still the other team's ball. With a charge, you earned us another possession."

Truly great players have the ability to make those around them better. Yet, so many young athletes are out to make their mark and refuse to see the benefit of helping to elevate their teammates' games. While this individualism idea has not yet fully engulfed the college and high school ranks, there are enough signs to raise concerns in my book.

Maravich wrote in his book, "Heir to a Dream," that he knew he needed more than himself to succeed if he was going to win on the court and in life, and that individual talent can only take you so far.

Both statements are true today. I hope their value will not be lost on the future generation of players.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of The Monett Times. He can be reached at sports@monett-times.com, or 417-235-3135.

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