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Monday, December 3, 2012
QOD: Wish upon a four-year star

By Eamonn Brennan

Question of the Day is a new feature here at the blog, wherein yours truly answers one especially thoughtful question, Twitter response, blog comment, email or any other form of written communication designed to elicit (hopefully) intelligent discussion. Think of it like Quora, or a mini mailbag or Reddit AMA, albeit with fewer questions about horse-sized ducks

To send your entries, hit me on Twitter (@eamonnbrennan), or send me an email here or here.

Today's QOD comes from Twitter follower, Virginia fan, and all-around funny human being @rmj_equals_hero, who asks:

If, as a fan, you got to pick one current player to stay all four years, who would it be?

This is an excellent question.

Isaiah Austin
Isaiah Austin hasn't even begun to tap his potential.
My first impulse is to say Cody Zeller. I really like to watch Zeller play -- he's smart, unselfish, and runs the floor better than any big man I've seen in a long time, including his brother. We already know how good he is, and he has room to improve. Were he to stay all four years in college, he could win a couple of national titles and push not only some of the all-time Indiana greats but some of college basketball's greatest-ever players for sheer career superiority.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how utterly boring this answer is.

I basically already know how good Zeller is going to be. He would probably get better with another year or two of college basketball, but by how much? Not so much that it would dramatically change the fan-based aesthetic viewing experience of watching the dude hoop. We pretty much know what we're going to get.

I have a handful of other young and talented players in mind, most notably Shabazz Muhammad, B.J. Young, Otto Porter, Marcus Smart, Anthony Bennett and -- especially -- Michael Carter-Williams, whose game I have basically fallen in love with in the past two weeks. I don't remember the last time I saw a college shooting guard who looked and played and acted and chewed his gum like a guy who could go out and be a real-life NBA shooting guard, and not a tweener or an undersized combo guard or a pure defensive specialist. (If you have seen the non-Kobe/Wade/Harden shooting guards in the NBA these days, you know what I mean). Carter-Williams looks like he grew up watching Kobe, which makes him not unlike many young players of this era (cough, Austin Rivers, cough). The difference is he actually looks like he can pull it off.

But MCW is already massively impressive. I'd rather take a player who is clearly talented, but hasn't even begun to scratch the surface of what he could one day be. I'd rather take Isaiah Austin.

It's easy to poke fun at Austin, or at least the idea of him, this big lanky 7-footer no one ever told to get down on the low block. Players like him -- including Perry Jones, the one-time top-five prospect who never quite put it all together -- have practically become a basketball cliche. But as I wrote during Baylor's win over Kentucky, I actually like Austin, and I think the PJIII comparisons are unfair. For one, all the talk of Austin being a 7-footer with actual guard skills wasn't just scout-talk -- Austin does have a solid handle, he is a decent passer, his shot mechanics are good, and he has range out to 22 feet. Many players (like Jones) come into the college game with this label only to prove that they would be better off playing in the low block, hitting hooks over smaller defenders, only they can't (or won't) do it. With Austin, if he's going to hover around the perimeter, at least he has the abilities to make it work.

Plus, he plays hard. He doesn't stand at the 3-point line when a shot goes up. He gets to the rim. He defends and rebounds and blocks (some) shots, and is only going to get better at all three.

But my god, that potential. That length. Austin is already proving he can do a bunch of things well on the basketball court, and he is still so unbelievably raw, court-sense-wise, that it's hard to expect him to do anything but improve once he gets the hang of things like spacing and rotations and all the rest. Imagine it. That guy? In college? For four years?

We do not live in that world, unfortunately. But I wish we did. I want to go to there.