Covering the UW men’s basketball team this year, I’ve grown a respect for what Bo’s boys have been able to accomplish thus far. Barring their letdown against Alabama and their subpar outing Saturday in Evanston, the Badgers have been able to play through controversy, battle through injuries and come up with big wins despite having a target on their backs as the reigning outright Big Ten champs.
And, as expected, Devin Harris has once again emerged at the forefront of Wisconsin’s midseason charge toward the top of the conference standings. UW’s junior guard has lived up to his billing as the coaches’ choice as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, leading the conference in assists per game (4.8) and ranking third in scoring (18.7 ppg).
His string of 30-point games or ridiculously efficient assist/turnover ratio (3.1) isn’t what has impressed me the most about him, though. Instead, it’s been how well he’s approached the game and handled himself this season–both on the floor and off it.
Harris’ quality disposition has been on display throughout the year, as he’s fielded questions, responded to compliments and played the role of a star with a classy and modest demeanor.
This became the most evident, by contrast, during Wisconsin’s 80-66 victory over Minnesota last Wednesday night.
With Harris and the Gophers’ freshman phenom Kris Humphries leading their respective teams, the game served as an example of how a star is expected to act — and how a star is not.
While Harris was dishing out high-fives and assists, Humphries was staring down officials and dropping the f-bomb as loudly as a Tourette’s-afflicted Dennis Leary.
I’m not saying that Harris hasn’t looked visibly frustrated at times this year or, god forbid, sworn on occasion, but Humphries was a little over the top Wednesday night.
During the beginning of virtually every Wisconsin possession after he had missed a shot (undoubtedly because he was fouled) or turned the ball over, Minnesota’s young superstar would either shoot a disgusted glance at the official and/or sport a pouty-bear face more commonly seen during recess at Bernie’s Place.
Aside from his childish dead-ball antics, a more concerning and unacceptable action he made a routine out of Wednesday was talking trash to UW head coach Bo Ryan.
Now, I know little head games go on between opposing players, and are possibly even encouraged in a few programs, but shooting your mouth off to the opposition’s head coach is just crap.
I’d noticed Humphries looking toward the Wisconsin sideline between a few token possessions during the game’s first stanza. It wasn’t until halftime, though, that I discovered why Ryan was flipping out about it so much.
Our photographer couldn’t make out exactly what Humphries was saying, but after one of his little jaunts past the Wisconsin bench, he heard Ryan tell the official, “If he says one more thing to me …” I’m assuming the rest was something along the lines of, “Throw him out of here,” as Humphries had already received a technical foul earlier in the game.
Who knows exactly what he was saying — or why? Does it really matter, though?
Everyone knows Humphries is a rare talent; his numbers speak for themselves. But for as little growing up he has to do physically, he has a ton to do mentally.
Watching him arrogantly raise his arms at the crowd Wednesday night after converting an alley-oop dunk — despite his team being down by double digits — demonstrated this fact to the 17,000-plus in attendance.
To put this action into perspective in football-terms, it’s very similar to the jerks who do an elaborate end-zone dance despite their team being down by five touchdowns.
Hopefully, Humphries learned a thing or two from Harris Wednesday night. When the Badgers’ floor leader felt a call was bogus — like he’s done all season — he just gave his routine are-you-kidding-me smile and played on.
If Humphries didn’t pick up on this approach to the game last week, it might do him some good to observe a recording of Wisconsin’s matchup with Michigan State earlier this year.
Although I later found out it never made it onto Dickie V’s telecast, one of the most indicative actions in terms of how Harris approaches officials occurred during the second half of this particular game.
A pair of suspect calls had just gone against UW, and the Kohl Center crowd was absolutely livid. Harris, on the other hand, just smiled and, while bringing the ball up on the Badgers’ next possession, gave the official a little pat on the rump.
This roll-with-the punches attitude toward the game is part of what makes players like Harris, Kirk Penney and former Duke standout Shane Battier some of the most well-liked and respected guys in the game.
Humphries turns 19 Friday. Whether he winds up making his first strides toward acting like the guys in this elite group remains to be seen. But in Kris’s defense, Kirk, Shane and Devin are all older than him. Hell, Harris is 20.