Monday morning, Oregon State's men's basketball Twitter acount tweeted to the masses that sophomore forward Eric Moreland was holding a press conference alongside head coach Craig Robinson, to make an announcement. A ritual that has long represented the time when a young man and his coach have talked and agreed that moving on to (potentially) bigger things is the right next step.
Well, much to the surprise of most, Moreland held a press conference for reporters that flocked from Portland (a 1 1/2 hour drive one way) to Eugene, to tell everybody that he was withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft process. Now, this isn't about Moreland and whether the NBA was even the right choice. The kid is 6'10 with a 7'4 wingspan. He's still young, athletic, a very active defender, and raw offensively, which means he was a second-round project for most. No, this press conference was to tell people that a player - regardless of actual talent - who averaged just nine points per contest, 9.9 rebounds per game and 2.2 blocked shots per game was coming back to the team who finished second-to-last in the Pac-12 this past season.
A move that I'm still trying to wrap around my brain.
I mean, if he was a junior coming back for his senior season and Oregon State was riding a ton of momentum into next year, I'd get it. Build up anticipation, get fans happy, make a statement to your team - 'hey guys, let's do this.'
But there isn't. There isn't any of that.
Sure, the Beavers have a ton of talent coming back and will have literally no excuse whatsoever for finishing anywhere less than 4th in the conference. It's a do or die season, as put by their head coach. However, the past season was such a drag and the team finished so sub-par that the buzz around the program just isn't there like maybe it should be.
But that's not the point. The point is this - when bringing up the fact Moreland held a press conference to announce his return I jokingly said that he's the first sophomore or real underclassmen to ever hold one to announce a return, which in turn got me a couple 'nuh uh, Jahii Carson did too!' Well, one, I know. I read it.
Two, even if I was serious, let me tell you why that's an incredibly dumb comparison.
Carson - who many may or may not know - was originally committed to come to Oregon State. In fact, reporters talk about the various times he continually mentioned the excitement he had for coming to Corvallis. However, later on in his career he mentioned that his interest wained in OSU. So, he decided to stay close to home and play for the Sun Devils.
He redshirted his first season, and along with the rest of the program, he came on this year and took everybody by storm.
Not only did he help resurrect a very lifeless team from 2011-2012, but he was - in my honest opinion - the Pac-12 Player of the Year. And even if he wasn't officially (Allen Crabbe of California won the award) he showed that he deserved the recognition to be considered in the category. He averaged 17.8 points per game, second only to Oregon State's Roberto Nelson at 19.1. He was fifth in assists per game at 4.4 and was first in minutes played per game with 38.3. He also earned co-Pac-12 Freshman of the Year - along with Shabazz Muhammad.
Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek asked the RS frosh to do it all. And he did.
The Sun Devils headed into the Pac-12 Tournament on a four-game losing streak. In ASU's first game they faced the Stanford Cardinal. A team that some thought could have a breakout Pac-12 season, but ended up having a disappointing year. Nonetheless Carson took the opportunity for a new start and NCAA Tournament hopes on the bubble, and ran with it.
In his first game he scored 34 points and dished out four assists. The Cardinal had no answer for him. His handles, quick first move and body control while driving the lane, couldn't be stopped.
Although his 34 point outburst made a lot of people take notice, it wasn't until the next game that Carson showed the full barrage of his game. He pulled everything out of his repertoire and carved up the Bruins. He went for 21 points, seven assists, and six rebounds. He was the late game ball handler in every situation, and Sendek trusted him to make the right decisions. Sure the Sun Devils fell to UCLA - the team that eventually ended up in the championship game versus Oregon and the NCAA Tournament - by five points, but Carson made his name known to more than your average Pac-12 fan.
He followed up his Pac-12 Tournament run with an impressive NIT run. He averaged 21 points, six assists and eight rebounds per game. Helping ASU get to the second round of the tournament before eventually falling to Baylor.
On April 9, 2013, Carson held a press conference to announce he'd be coming back to Arizona State for his sophomore season. Not only did Carson have strong interest from the NBA, but he helped Arizona State finish 22-13, a nine game turnaround from the season before.
See the difference there?
Carson brought a different attitude to Arizona State. He brought a toughness they haven't had since James Harden left. His scoring ability, durability and assist numbers showed everyone that he could be the difference maker most teams look for. He gives folks in Tempe a reason to get excited for basketball season. Suddenly the Sun Devils aren't so irrelevant on the hardwood.
So for him to hold a press conference makes sense. Most fans knew the NBA was a likely option. He has the skill set to get there, but holding a press conference to tell fans to gear up and get ready for next year with him? That builds an all new excitement.
As for Moreland? I don't want to diminish him. He's an entirely different style of player. But their impacts can stil be measured the same, and his didn't come close to Carsons. He was suspended for three games for a violation of team rules. He didn't make OSU much better, as they still finished second to last in the Pac-12. And offensively he didn't contribute much. Sure he was a rim protector, but ultimately that doesn't drive butts in the seats.
It's never a bad thing to build some buzz for your program. Craig Robinson knows this more than anybody else, but Moreland isn't getting people fired up. The direction of the program isn't going one way or another with or without him. It helps to have him, but it doesn't necessarily equate to wins and losses.
So sure, Carson did something similar to what Moreland did on Monday afternoon. But let's not compare the two. It's apples to crackers and it's not even close.
Moreland makes your stomach grumble less, but Carson's better for you.
The Sun Devils come to Corvallis this weekend, and the last time they were in town (2010) the Beavers defense got to Steven Threet and picked him off three times. OSU better hope the offense shows up, because it's going to take everything they've got to beat a talented/pissed off ASU team.
Oregon State Play of the Night: Unfortunately for Beavers' fans and Oregon State players, the turning point of the night had to be the 4th INT by starting quarterback Sean Mannion. The game was tied 10-all, the Beavers seemed to be in a position to come out of a very ugly game with a win, and the sophomore QB coming back from a knee injury threw a very untimely pick to Marcus Peters that gave Washington the ball. One play later Price to Williams put Washington at the one-yard line. Sure it isn't something positive but Mannion's four picks cost OSU the ball game, and made any kind of an offensive rhythm impossible to get going. The pick also triggered a switch at QB for OSU that nearly won the game for them. Now some wonder whether Mannion is the answer for OSU the rest of the way this season.
Player of the Game: Brandin Cooks. Kid had nine catches for 123-yards a TD. He seemed to take the leadership role after Markus Wheaton was put out on a helmet-to-helmet hit. Cody Vaz a close second, but Cooks did everything you could have asked from him.
Quote of the Night: Sean Mannion: "It was a tough loss against a great opponent. Washington played a great game, I thought they played well tonight, I'm not happy we lost, but this team has great character. We're going to be ready to go next week, that's for sure."
What to Look Forward to: Arizona State. The Beavers get to play at home, under the lights, and to play a good team in the Sun Devils. An ASU team that's coming off of a heart-breaking loss themselves to UCLA 45-43. It should be a good test for an OSU team that now knows what it's like to be punched in the mouth after being a ranked team. Whether they can learn from this loss and move on and improve against ASU might be the determining factor in how far OSU can travel in postseason play.
We'll see how they respond under the bright lights.