Bigger than big

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

AUSTIN, Texas – By the time the best player in America was pulled from the game after only 21 points and only 12 rebounds, the Erwin Center crowd almost had to force itself to its feet, remember to cheer and realize Texas was well on its way to humiliating Oklahoma State.

That's how absurd the Kevin Durant Show has become.

"I hope they weren't disappointed," Durant said. "I had a double-double and we won. But I know what you mean …"

When you're 18 years old and you had three 37-point games, two 34-point games, a 23-rebound game against Texas Tech that left Bob Knight shrugging his shoulders, when you've become something that college basketball hasn't seen in a long, long time – a must-see event even though his team isn't even ranked – people start to expect it all.

They want to see the circus. They want Pete Maravich or something. Just beating the 17th-ranked team in the country 83-54 isn't enough.

"I mean, look at his night," Texas coach Rick Barnes laughed. "That's a great night for anybody. People would like that. But expectations …"

Durant isn't going to go No. 1 overall in June's NBA draft – Ohio State 7-footer Greg Oden will. He might not even be named national player of the year – there is a good chance old-school voters will favor an upperclassman, say Wisconsin senior Alando Tucker or Florida junior Joakim Noah.

But it hardly matters.

This is the winter a long, lanky mega-talent deep in the heart of Texas put on awe-inspiring performance after awe-inspiring performance to the point where he practically was apologizing for 21 and 12.

"The only guy that I can remember like him is Carmelo (Anthony) in 2003," said Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton, who's been either a player or coach in college hoops since 1988. "And Kevin is more difficult to defend than Carmelo was at this stage. He's a little quicker and the range of his jump shot makes him a special talent. And he doesn't get frustrated."

This is what has captivated America and turned 18-7 Texas into Team TiVo. Watching Durant right now is to witness greatness blossoming, a kid still growing into his limbs, still smiling and eager to learn the game yet still capable of delivering the spectacular at any moment.

And it has spawned the sports debate of the year – Oden or Durant. It's not a fair question because they play different positions, have different skill sets and are used differently by their teams.

Oden, the freshman big who's still hampered by a wrist injury, doesn't handle in the open court and thus is reliant on his teammates to get him the ball. His numbers – 15.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.6 blocks a game – are not indicative of his ability, potential or even current impact on the game.

The NBA team that wins the draft lottery almost has to draft Oden first because it is centers like him who win championships. He's the Tim Duncan or Hakeem Olajuwon of this class. He is the no-brainer No. 1 selection.

Durant is Tracy McGrady or Kevin Garnett – obscene talents who never attended college – and only his outrageous play has made the top pick debate a talk radio obsession 4½ months before the draft. But it probably isn't a real debate.

That said, Durant is better, more exciting and more valuable right now than Oden, which isn't to take anything from the Buckeye. But it is Durant who has given college hoops the shot in the arm the way no big, tough, traditional center ever can.

For his part, Durant won't bite on who'd he pick first – "I'll take my team over his team. I'll say that" – but he will say a freshman should be player of the year as long as they earn it, which is something Barnes has been pushing all year.

"I told him before the season started, 'You know, you've got a chance to be national player of the year,' " Barnes said. "Obviously, I had a selfish motive in that because if he is the national player of the year, we're going to be pretty good.

"But to do that, you have to improve defensively (and) you're going to have to rebound the ball. You can't just sit out there and shoot threes."

And so the Maryland native bought into the plan. The coaching staff here spends as much time marveling at Durant's attitude and hunger for knowledge as the open-court moves that make even grizzled eyes stop and rewind game film.

Earlier this month, Durant struggled a bit scoring after contact in the paint at Colorado. He still had 37, mind you. And 16 rebounds. And UT won. The team had the next day, a Sunday, off, leaving Durant to enjoy big man on campus status. Instead, he was calling assistant coach Russell Springmann at 11 a.m., asking if he could come in and work on finishing after contact.

"He wants to find ways to be challenged," said Springmann, shaking his head at the thought. "After the Tech game, where he had 37 points and 23 rebounds, the first thing he says to me is, 'Coach, how was my defense tonight?' "

On Monday night, it was very good. Just one reason why Texas won a huge game, why the Longhorns are peaking and Durant was celebrating with his teammates.

At the Erwin Center and on televisions around the country, of course, it was a different story.

They don't watch to see the Kevin Durant Show feature help-side defense or to see the best player in America manage just 21 and 12 – as absurd as that sounds for this most absurd of talents.

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