Everybody thinks about it, but no one wants to talk about it. I'm talking about the fact that J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison are the two best players in college basketball this year and both are white.
I don't know about you, but for me, this is a bit alarming. The last white, American-born player to win the Wooden Award as college basketball's best player was none other than Duke's own Christian Laettner in 1992.
"I really don't find any significance in the fact that Adam and I are white," Redick said. "If a guy can play then race doesn't matter."
J.J., I couldn't agree with you more that if a guy can play, race doesn't matter. However, I have to disagree with your first point-it is definitely significant that you and Adam are white, and for the first time in a long time, it seems the white presence in college basketball is growing.
Our No. 1 Blue Devils are Exhibit B. Of the 16 players on Duke's roster, just six are black. Of the seven guys who play significant minutes, only three are black.
And Duke is not the only school in college basketball's upper echelon dominated by white guys. Look at Morrison's fifth-ranked Gonzaga squad, or Kevin Pittsnogle's No. 14 West Virginia team. One look at those rosters and you'd think they started cloning Chris Dudley and Will Perdue.
If you take a look around the Triangle, the trend continues. Three of N.C. State's main contributors-Engin Atsur, Ilian Evtimov, and Andrew Brackman-are white. And even the best freshman in the country, Tyler Hansbrough is white.
Why does it matter, you ask, whether these guys are white or black?
It matters to Dr. Harry Edwards.
Edwards, a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of California Berkeley and an expert on issues pertaining to race and sports, believes this reflects something deeper about the state of the urban community in America.
"We have a deterioration of the infrastructure in the African-American community that for years has sustained the athletic talent pool," Edwards said. "Places like Rucker in Harlem, places like Mosswood in Oakland-these outdoor basketball facilities which in increasing numbers across the nation have deteriorated because of budget concerns and have become too violent because of gang and drug activity.
"One-third of the African-American males [in this country] age 15-29 are under the control of the courts-either under arrest, under indictment, under investigation, incarcerated, on parole or on probation."
His point was crystal clear. The pool of African-Americans competing for scholarships is shrinking. Imagine how many guys there are who have the skills to play college basketball but haven't received the educational opportunities or the mentorship to guide them in the right direction.
Sophomore guard DeMarcus Nelson doesn't have to imagine, because he saw it firsthand back in Oakland.
"On my high school team, we had a lot of guys who were very talented, they could've played D-1, but it was just decision-making as far as coming up," Nelson said. "Some guys choose to live in the streets, some guys just aren't academically capable, and for some others the concept of school doesn't make sense to them."
Am I saying that J.J. Redick would not be the best player in college basketball if more athletes were eligible? No way. Not since I idolized Michael Jordan have I had more confidence in a player's ability to drain shots.
But Redick, Morrison and Pittsnogle, Duke, Gonzaga and West Virginia-they are the symbols of what seems to be a gradually growing white presence in college basketball. And if you factor in the words of Dr. Edwards, then you have to consider the following possibility: the white presence might be growing stronger because the conditions of talent-rich urban-American communities are deteriorating.
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