So let's get back at it. There's been a lot of talk about Damian Lillard of the Blazers and Paul George of the Pacers in the first third or so of the season, as there was much of last year. These guys are getting the respect they deserve now, but that hasn't always been the case. Each played their college hoops at a mid-major school, which don't get as much coverage or respect as the 6 major conferences.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (who himself made his name at mid-major darling Butler) recently did a radio interview before a Celtics-Pacers game, and he was asked about Paul George's ascension and, more generally, the impact that some mid-major players are making in todays' NBA. He said something really interesting, and I wish I could find the quote, but I'll paraphrase:
Stevens said that today, all good basketball players get attention around their freshman year. ESPN ranks the top 100 basketball players from every class , and other publications do stuff to the same effect. Generally speaking, there are about 100-150 players who from a young age are highly-touted and are made to believe that they can do no wrong, on or off the court. There are then another 100-150 kids who don't make that "blue-chip" list. Those players are all competitive and want to work even harder, develop their games, utilize every element (defense and passing come to mind) in order to prove themselves worthy. So the mentality of the two groups develops very differently as they move through high school and are recruited by colleges. Stevens argued that as players grow physically and mentally, that initial "shun" and the subsequent "chip on the shoulder" approach it yielded is actually an advantage for the guys who end up at mid-major schools.
Attitude alone doesn't count for much in basketball, I would argue. But when you're dealing with players age 16-22 - very impressionable, very volatile emotionally, and still developing physically - these two trajectories that Stevens outlines make a lot of sense to me. On the one extreme is high praise which could lead to complacency and arrogance. On the other extreme is hard work, smarts, and maximizing one's potential. Most guys fall somewhere in the middle, but it's an interesting spectrum to consider.
So which players today were part of that "second 150" that didn't get looks from Tobacco Road or Lexington? I'm glad I asked. Here's the All-Mid Major Team*:
*With so much conference re-alignment, I'm going to consider a school a mid-major if they were in a conference other than the 6 traditional power conferences during the player's tenure there. That seems most fair. In some cases, the school was a mid-major until a certain player arrived and helped in the process of the school joining a major conference. Look at Dwayne Wade and Gordon Hayward. Also, I'll be judging on today's impact, not overall body of work, so no Kenyon Martin. You could argue that "active" is too generous a term for him, anyway.
Active All Mid-Major Team
G- Steph Curry - Davidson/Warriors
G- Dwayne Wade - Marquette/ Heat
F- Paul George - Fresno State/Pacers
F- David West - Xavier/Pacers
F- Larry Sanders - VCU/Bucks
G- Damian Lillard - Weber State/TrailBlazers
F - Gordon Hayward - Butler/ JazzF - Kawhi Leonard - San Diego State/Spurs
G - Derrick Rose - Memphis/Bulls (glad I had a reason to stick him out of the starting lineup, because Memphis under John Calipari was a far cry from a mid-major in all but technicality.)
You'll notice it definitely skews more toward the guards or smaller forwards. It makes sense, actually, because a college is far less likely to pass up on a 6'10" prospect than they are a 6'3" prospect. For example, Damian Lillard and his teammate LaMarcus Aldridge could have theoretically been identical in talent and athleticism in high school, but since Aldridge is 6'10", he went to Texas and Lillard did not. Basically, it's harder to fly under the radar if you're oversized.
The All Mid-Major Team looks pretty good to me, but would get worked by an All-Major Team even if you left out LeBron, Dwight, and other straight-to-pros. The true test will be if, at any point in the future the All-Mid-Major Team looks as stacked as the All-Major Team.
And you can't have an active list without thinking about its all-time counterpart. Now, just for fun, here's the all-time Mid Major Team. Seeing as though conferences didn't always exist and programs have shrunk and expanded over the decades, I'm going to draw from today's mid-major schools in order to keep it consistent, even if that school was at one time a powerhouse. That makes this team far more formidable than the active one. The most notable victim of this rule is Hakeem Olajuwon, whose Houston Cougars have been outside a major conference for much of their existence until joining the weird American Athletic Conference this year.
G - Bob Cousy, Holy Cross (biased nod but feels legit)
G - John Stockton - Gonzaga
F - Julius Erving - Massachussetts
F - Larry Bird - Indiana State
C - Bill Russell - San Francisco
G - Walt Clyde Frazier - Southern Illinois
F - David Robinson - Navy
F - Karl Malone - Louisiana Tech