Back when basketball was fun, interesting, worth following, and didn't have an unrepentant rape apologist leading the program, we used to be known for our mature NBA ready players. None more than Arron Afflalo; Ben Howland's very first recruit, who came to epitomize what it meant to play hardnosed workman-like basketball.
Stories of his work ethic have endeared him to the fanbases in Detroit and Denver, but since his trade to the Orlando Magic (also known as the NBA's basketball purgatory), the original Ben Ball Warrior seems to have fallen off the radar. And that's truly a shame, because quietly here in his seventh NBA season, he has shown a more complete and well rounded game than he ever has, and if enough Eastern Conference coaches understand that, he could be rewarded with a trip to the All Star game for the first time when the teams are announced tomorrow.
In Orlando, the team needs him to do a little bit of everything: score, make plays for his teammates, defend, post up, be a leader, control the locker room -- everything. And this season he's done it, averaging a career-high 20.4 points a game with a blistering true shooting percentage of 58.9.
Of course, for a player so accustomed to winning games at all levels, it's been a challenge for AA to have to lead a talentless roster whose current win total of 12 puts the Magic above only one team in the already woeful East.
"But [losing] is what probably bothers me the most. Not the individual recognition or lack thereof, it's my impact on winning games, night in and night out. When I'm not feeling that, that's tough to handle.
"I won a state championship in high school, we got to the Final Four in college [UCLA], in Detroit and Denver I was used to 50-win teams. So this really has been the toughest transition in my life. I've never been in a losing situation at all in my life."
And we can't ignore this fun little dig in Ramona Shelburne's column:
"It was the same thing in high school," said Vadim Malikin, who was an assistant coach at Centennial High in Compton, Calif., when Afflalo starred there, and is now the head coach. "We had another kid, Gabe Pruitt, who was a little more athletic, he had a little more AAU hype behind him. But Arron always thought, 'Man, I'm better than him. I know everybody's touting Gabe, but I'm better. I can do anything he can do.'
Pruitt ended up going to USC and becoming a second-round draft pick of the Boston Celtics, but was out of the NBA two years later. Afflalo went to UCLA, helped lead them to back-to-back Final Fours, and was a first-round draft pick for a Detroit team with championship aspirations.
There's plenty more in there, so head over and check it out, and lets all cross our fingers tomorrow for a well deserved all star berth for AA.
UPDATE: Sadly, it looks like Arron will not be selected for the game. Fortunately, as the article makes clear and from what we know of his character from his time in Westwood, such things are unlikely to bring him down.