Let's not rush to judgement. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.
Every year, in every sport, there's an offseason. Every year, in every sport, there's some sort of rookie draft. And every year, there are some superlatives placed on said rookies to one end or the other. They're either proclaimed to be a future Hall of Famer, or they're the next biggest bust. Fans overreact. Haters do too. But when the media does it, that sends things into overdrive? Why? Because too many of you will take the opinion of a media member and pass it along as an unquestionable fact. Once that gets cycled enough times, people stop asking questions and assume it's all real because they've heard it too many times from too many places. This is far too common in sports.
Here we are in the midst of the NBA's Summer League (the annual showcase of rookies and young players post-draft) and it's happening again! The Rockets' rookies are getting it from different sides. Most specifically Jabari Smith Jr and Tari Eason. The numbers three and seventeen overall picks respectively in this past draft have garnered the most talk on the team this year. While the talk about Eason has been overly positive, most of the talk about Smith Jr hasn't. The extremes have gone from Eason being the next great two-way player, to Smith Jr being an average role player that got over drafted.
Could two things be true. Absolutely. Are these two extremes true? Hell naw! Eason is a really good player. He could end up being the steal of this draft. Smith Jr isn't nearly as bad as those opinions would have you think. They've both had their moments to shine and not look so good. Eason has had more consistent performances (a double-double in all three games so far), but Smith Jr has shined as well. Smith Jr has shown the IQ on the defensive end that made him a threat to be taken number one overall. His offensive repertoire has been on display, but hasn't fully been put out there for all to see. Eason has shown his hustle and all-around ability. His scrappy, yet athletic style will fit right in on this team. Both guys have the ability to contribute on the court, and be a presence on both ends.
The effusive praise and overwhelming criticism have got to stop. These guys are playing against players who may not even make the G League. Sure, there are fellow rookies out there, but most of the Summer League rosters are camp bodies (players brought in to fill preseason rosters and burn reps). Giving a gold jacket to a preseason Hall of Famer is a saying in the NFL. One can look very good playing against lower-level competition. The key is to observe a player's skill set and see how it can translate to minutes in the rotation when playing alongside and against much better competition. I have no doubt both of these guys will contribute to the Rockets' success the next few years. So will Josh Christopher, who's been a star in the Summer League for the Rockets. We have to give these kids a chance. Too many of us are conditioned to the microwave dinner and have lost sight of the home-cooked meal. That home-cooked meal is full of love and ingredients you know where they all came from for the most part. Those microwave meals are loaded with fats and all kinds of bad stuff for you. One gives you instant fulfillment, while the other takes your gratification on a journey before the payoff. Not everything comes in the stroke of a few keys on your phone. Some things have to be built by hand.
The only cheers Houston guard L.J. Cryer heard in his return to Baylor came when he missed a 3-pointer on the first shot of the game for the second-ranked Cougars.
Cryer, who as a freshman three years ago was part of Baylor’s only national championship, made six free throws in overtime and finished with 15 points as No. 2 and Big 12-leading Houston beat the 11th-ranked Bears 82-76 on Saturday after blowing a 16-point halftime lead.
“I was expecting the boos and stuff like that, like not welcoming,” said Cryer, who had no turnovers while playing nearly 43 minutes.
“Really proud of L.J.,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. “L.J. was in a tough environment today. ... He showed his maturity because he just played solid.”
The Cougars (24-3, 11-3 Big 12) never trailed in regulation and appeared to win the game on a long 3-pointer by Jamal Shead at the buzzer. But replay showed the ball was still in his hands when the clock ran out.
All six of Cryer’s free throws came in overtime, the first two with 3:06 left to put the Cougars back ahead to stay after falling behind for the first time. After playing 70 games the past three seasons for Baylor before transferring to Houston, he got booed loudly every time he touched the ball early.
Emanuel Sharp had 18 points to lead the Cougars. J’Wan Roberts had 17 points and eight rebounds, while Shead had 12 points and 10 assists.
“Everybody contributed to this win, we’re all responsible for this win,” Shead said. “This was a really good team win.”
Ja’Kobe Walter scored a game-high 23 points for Baylor (19-8, 8-6), and RayJ Dennis had 21. Jalen Bridges had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Jayden Nunn scored 11 points.
The Bears didn’t tie the game for the first time until Yves Missi, their 7-foot freshman, made a layup while being fouled with 4.4 seconds left in regulation to make it 69-all. Roberts rebounded Missi’s missed free throw, and Shead was just a tick late in ending the game without overtime.
Baylor opened the second half with a 12-0 run while Houston missed its first eight shots. Bridges scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, including nine in a row for the Bears in the final 5 1/2 minutes of regulation.
The Cougars led 41-25 at halftime after scoring 13 points off 11 Baylor turnovers. They made 10 of 11 shots in one stretch, which Roberts started by assisting on consecutive baskets before ending it with a jumper that made it 27-10.
“We just felt like they brought it to us in the first half. They’re easily the most physical team that we’ve played so far and I feel like we were a little bit taken back,” Bridges said. “And we just came out in the second half trying to punch them back.”
Bears sophomore guard Langston Love, their sixth player averaging double-figure scoring going into Saturday, was out of the fourth time in five games because of a leg injury. He played 15 minutes at BYU on Tuesday. ... Sampson revealed after the game that Cougars junior guard Ramon Walker, who got hurt in practice this week, will miss the rest of the season because of a torn meniscus.
It was their first meeting as Big 12 foes, and first since the Final Four three years ago when Baylor beat Houston in a semifinal game on way to winning its first national championship.
Some consider Houston the best team in the country, even though reigning national champion UConn is No. 1. The Cougars won both games this week against top-11 teams, also beating sixth-ranked Iowa State. Baylor is certain to drop several spots, even though its consecutive losses are to Top 25 teams.
Houston is home Tuesday night against Cincinnati.
Baylor plays Monday night at TCU, which won 105-102 in triple overtime on Jan. 27 to become the first and only other opposing team to win at Foster Pavilion.