It’s a very good one. It’s an excellent one, actually, as I portrayed in this column from Metro State’s 76-72 win against UCCS in the NCAA Division II tournament Saturday.
UCCS basketball is on the way up: most wins in school history, first NCAA tournament appearance in school history, a roster that returns for the 2014-15 season largely intact. But here’s another reason the Mountain Lions should feel good about themselves — now and into the future.
Its star player, Derrick White, is playing at the correct level. Most of its roster seems content where it is. I think White is good enough — no, will be good enough, as a junior and senior — to play at the Division I level. He would certainly be good enough to contribute at Air Force and, I believe, at CSU. He wouldn’t average 20-plus points per game in the Mountain West Conference, as he did this season at UCCS, but he would play for those programs. After seeing him play Saturday, I believe that.
But he’s playing at the right level. I saw it in the Mountain West, the Missouri Valley and, especially, in the Big Ten, and it remains a pet peeve that gives me a sad. High school players — and their parents — want to compete at the top level of college basketball. They overestimate their potential by choosing a program, and a conference, that is better than they are.
And then they sit. They sit for two, three, even four years, stewing and venting and wasting a college athletics career that could have flourished at a lower-level program. It’s an unfortunate thing to watch a kid with high hopes languish at the end of the bench, because they — or, more often, their families and coaches and mentors — believed they were better than they actually are.
So I appreciated when UCCS coach Jeff Culver said this: “When we’re recruiting a kid, I always tell him you can go to another level and ride the bench for a couple years. Or you can come here and be the conference Player of the Year.”
That’s what White will be. The Parker product, as a junior, will be the Preseason Player of the Year in the RMAC. But he chose the right level. It’s a wise lesson for high school athletes who are borderline Division I, or borderline Division III, or even borderline NAIA prospects.
Choose the right level, not the biggest name, and four years of happiness (and playing time) often follows.