Jess and Lewis are BFFs that attended Arizona from 2004-2008 and have bled, puked and pooped red and blue ever since (real fans do more than just bleed their teams colors). Every Wednesday this season each of us will spotlight two players. The players we love will be signified as our Wilbur of the Week, named after our glorious push-up champion, family man of a mascot Wilbur Wildcat and our hated player will be designated as our Sparky of the Week because Sparky represents all that is wrong in the world and he should stay in hell where he belongs. The only rule for eligibility to be selected as a Wilbur or Sparky of the Week is that players must have been played during the following time range: 2004 - Present. To see last weeks edition (or if you hate David Bagga), click here.
Wilbur of the Week - Lewis
Irrational confidence can often be a bad thing in life but for an undersized player in basketball it's basically a necessity. One of the most exciting things to watch is when a guy makes the transition from irrationally confident to rationally confident and watching that transition happen was one of my favorite things about this weeks Wilbur of the Week, Lamont 'MoMo' Jones.
Besides finding it impossible to hate someone named MoMo, the other reason I always loved MoMo even through all the turbulence was that this was a guy who always wanted the ball in his hands. He wasn't afraid of the criticism and he wasn't afraid to make a mistake and although he made plenty of mistakes as he tried to learn the point guard position, I always felt like I was watching a guy give maximum effort at all times. MoMo genuinely believed every shot he took was going in and he genuinely believed he was unguardable. And sometimes, he was absolutely right.
MoMo's buzzer beater to take down Stanford on the road was the signature play of his career (shout out to D-Will for the clutch block). That play perfectly encapsulated MoMo as you see his speed, his confidence, his knack for making the big play and his total inability to even contemplate letting anyone else on the team have the ball in their hands. But the game I'll always remember the best was MoMo putting the team on his back and willing the Cats to victory in a 3OT classic against Cal. MoMo hit tying or go ahead shots in the final minute of regulation, the second OT AND the third OT and most importantly he busted out my all-time favorite quote from any Arizona post-game interview:
"To other people it might be something new, but to me it's just another day in the life of MoMo Jones."
MoMo's Arizona career was far too short as he transferred to Iona after his Sophomore year. And get this, although other official reasons were mentioned, the main reason MoMo seems to have transferred was to clear room for Josiah Turner and Jordin Mayes. As anyone who bet against Rocky in Rocky III can tell you, hindsight is 20/20 but that was a really terrible trade for Arizona. MoMo went on to lead Iona to back-to-back tournament appearances and after being freed of the burden to try and be a facilitating point guard, MoMo became the third leading scorer in the country averaging 22.6 points per game during his Senior campaign. Just for a fun comparison, Jordin Mayes didn't score his 22nd point of the season during his Senior year until Arizona's 23rd game. MoMo Jones scored 43 points in one game during his Senior Year. Jordin Mayes scored 44 points total during his Senior Year. Which of course was still 44 points more than Josiah Turner scored during his Sophomore, Junior and Senior Years combined for Arizona.
Sparky of the Week - Lewis
My Sparky of the Week has the noteworthy distinction of being our first actual Sparky of the series. Our hated Sparky this week is the only guy in the world that can grow a beard that covers 90% of his face and mouth and you can still tell how hideous his grill is.... Mr. James Harden.
Going to Arizona State is more than enough reason to be named to this list but with Harden there is so much more to hate. I am convinced that James Harden doesn't even enjoy basketball, he only enjoys trying to get fouled. I think every time he scores on an outside shot he is secretly upset that he didn't get a chance to flail his arms wildly until they hit someone else's arms.
Harden of course is now a First Team All-NBA player but it doesn't change the fact that his game is completely uninteresting to watch. While Steph Curry works on his jump-shot and LeBron James spends time in the weight room and Kevin Durant watches film, I'm convinced James Harden spends all of his free time deliberately running into walls and falling down. Of course Harden gets fouled a lot but his flopping and the amount of times he gets bailed out by refs when he clearly has no desire to even try to score is maddening. Luckily, hating James Harden is so much more than a U of A thing as Harden has become one of the least popular players in the NBA today.
Imagine playing on a team with Dwight Howard and still being the least likable player on your team. It seems impossible but Harden has done it. While Dwight may be annoying the guy has won the Defensive Player of the Year Award three times and now he is stuck with a guy who looks like this playing defense. If you have spare thousand hours I highly recommend watching all the compilations of James trying to play defense. They are hilarious.
You know the argument 'how many points would Michael Jordan score if he played in today's NBA with its hand-checking and no hard fouls rules?' I love thinking about the reverse of that argument for James Harden. His effectiveness is largely based on the softness of the current NBA and the refs instinct to call a foul anytime anyone drives. If James Harden and Michael Jordan switched eras, MJ would average 50 a game and Harden would be out of the NBA playing for the Washington Generals as they get embarrassed by their arch-rivals (the good guys) and lose over and over and over again. Just like the basketball team of his alma matter.
Wilbur of the Week - Jess
Arizona prides itself on being known as Point Guard University. A long history of unbelievably talented playmakers have blessed our program: Stoudamire, Bibby, Arenas and Gardner to name a few (here’s highlights of all of them plus more). Each man running the show had his own skill set that greatly contributed to the success of the teams they were on, resulting in All-America honors, deep tourney runs and even a National Championship. But it seemed like it had been years since the Wildcats had a prototypical pass-first point guard that at one time defined Arizona basketball. That was until Sean Miller made a better Pittsburgh connection than Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown when he brought fellow Steel City basketball royalty T.J. McConnell aboard via transfer.
"I’ve just gotta give all the credit to my teammates. You know, they went out there and made the plays and I just got them the ball."
That quote defines who T.J. is as a player and the guy playing coach on the court: someone whose focus is to find ways to get his teammates involved, set them up for success, and make them better. Sure, Mark Lyons scored a lot of points his one year in Tucson, but it wasn’t really until T.J. hit the hardwood that we saw the true potential of guys like Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski (McConnell’s name is said almost as many times as Aaron Gordon’s in this highlight reel about AG). He runs the offense efficiently and gets his guys good looks so they don’t have to worry as much about creating their own shots. His assists alone will put him in the Arizona record books, his Junior season was the sixth-best single season total in U of A history and he’s set to best that this year. But there’s so much more to T.J.’s game than just that.
This season I’ve often wondered who our "guy" is when we need to put the team on someone’s back and have them take charge when we need them most. I thought it could be Ashley, maybe Stanley Johnson, but after the last few games (especially last Saturday's victory over Utah) it turns out it’s McConnell. With his leaning jump shot, and incredible handles, he’s been able to score in clutch moments on top of the incredible defense he plays on the other end of the court. A frequent holder of the golden jersey in practice, T.J. is a leader vocally and by example. Sure, he can seem a little crazy on the court when he screams and gets that look in his eye, but he’s our nut job and we love him. We are lucky to have such a contributor on our team, and I can’t wait to see how he closes out his Wildcat career at Point Guard U.
Sparky of the Week - Jess
Thomas never won in Tucson and averaged just over three turnovers a game against the Cats during his three year career at UW. One still wonders why he wasn't deemed the go-to option on the final shot of the famous Whiteout game in 2011, and instead Darnell Gant got the go-ahead look (didn't hurt that Kevin Parrom had him locked down on the inbounds). So keep your blood at a low temperature IT, now that you're on the Suns, a team I actually cheer for, I can finally get behind your willingness to shoot your squad in or out of games.