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Archive for Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tait: The great debate

February 13, 2008

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I get it. I really do.

Games like the KU-K-State game in January or Monday's KU-Texas game, where the atmosphere is so electric and the action so invigorating that you can't help but love every second of it, show why so many high school athletes develop the dream of playing their chosen sport at the highest collegiate level.

I, too, once had such dreams. They expired early on, though, and peaked with me hitting the "game-winning" three-pointer in my driveway or slamming home an alley-oop on the plastic rim in my room.

But I get it.

In many ways, I admire the heck out of it. There's nothing like the look of a high school athlete who's bound and determined to make it to the Division I level. I've been lucky enough to cover a few such athletes during my days as a sportswriter and I honestly can say that each one who made it had that special something that you couldn't quite put your finger on. You knew it was there, though, and you knew it was going to contribute to that athlete running down the dream.

Those stories were fun to cover, but the ones that stand out the most are the athletes who have gone to college with one goal in mind - playing.

The other day a co-worker and I were talking about how nice it would be if high school athletes understood that the most important part of the college experience was the experience itself and not the name on the uniform.

So many young athletes get caught up in hitting the big-time that they forget the reason they're playing in the first place. There's absolutely nothing wrong with picking a college because it's close to home, offers a prime environment and gives you a chance to play the sport you've loved.

Practicing in Allen Fieldhouse is one thing, but playing a key role in a game with conference title implications for Ottawa or Baker can be just as exhilarating.

Several Lawrence athletes can be found on the rosters of small colleges nearby. I bet many of them would say that battling for a league title while playing 20-plus minutes a game was as exciting as anything they ever experienced.

It's not the school or the level that makes athletics great, but the athletes who play the games.

This isn't a knock on anyone who chooses to go Division I. Lawrence's high schools have seen their share of athletes attempt to live the dream and succeed.

Free State product and current Jayhawk Brady Morningstar overlooked interest from Butler University, the same Butler that's currently ranked in the top 10 of both major college basketball polls, to take a shot with the Jayhawks. The jury's still out on his decision, but I can't help but wonder if Morningstar has considered what playing at Butler would be like while red-shirting at KU.

On the flip side, Morningstar's sidekick while at FSHS, Matt Green, is starting at Ottawa University and recently was named conference player of the week for the first-place Braves.

Two different players, two different lives.

The bottom line is this: The decision to play college athletics belongs to the athlete and no one else. They're the ones who have to live with their decision.

Shooting for the stars is great, but finding your niche at a small college nearby can offer just as much fulfillment, perhaps even more.

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