A case for Durant

WATCH VIDEO: Kevin Durant's NBA workout in Seattle wowed coaches. (Getty Images)

NEW YORK – At halftime of one of the greatest performances in the history of 52-year-old Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas coach Bill Self gathered his coaching staff and tried to figure out what to do about what had just happened.

Kevin Durant had just dropped 25 points on the Jayhawks by hitting 10 of 14 shots, including all five from three-point range. For good measure, he had three rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals to give his Texas Longhorns a 54-42 lead back on March 3.

Scroll to continue with content

This was the definition of unstoppable, a single player leaving the then third-ranked team in the nation and their seen-it-all fans in stunned awe.

The thing was, Self actually felt good about KU's defensive effort. The Jayhawks had thrown some athletes at the 6-foot-9 Durant – switching two NBA caliber talents in Julian Wright and Brandon Rush on the assignment. The rest of the team positioned well, double-teamed and forced the ball out of Durant's hands at times. KU did just about everything the game plan asked.

And Durant humiliated the Jayhawks anyway. He hit fallaways. He drove and dunked. He nailed pull-up, mid-range jumpers. He drained step-back, NBA-range three-pointers. He did whatever he wanted. All the while passing and playing actual defense.

So in the ultimate concession to Durant's otherworldly greatness, Self just threw up his hands and decided there really was nothing anyone could do. Yes, his team had just been shredded for 25 points in 20 minutes and, yes, every coaching textbook says you have to make some kind of adjustment. But what textbook had ever seen Kevin Durant?


He was just too good. Any adjustment would be a waste of time, change for the sake of change.

"Just keep doing what you're doing," Self told his team.

Durant wound up spraining his ankle in the second half (the ultimate defense) and finished with just 32 points as KU rallied for the victory. But it hardly mattered. They'll be talking about that first half for as long as they care about basketball in Kansas, namely forever.

Kevin Pritchard is the general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers, who own the No. 1 pick in Thursday's NBA draft. He's the man who will make the call on whether to draft Durant or 7-foot center Greg Oden of Ohio State (a move every basketball sensibility says is the correct one).


A report late Wednesday night says it will be Oden. But Pritchard can't help thinking about that first half in Kansas, the one he's watched over and over and over on film.

"Watch that performance and tell me it's an easy decision," he said.

Pritchard said this even before the Blazers had Durant in for an individual workout that Pritchard himself characterized to The Oregonian as "impressive as any workout that I've seen."

That's the tantalizing thing about Kevin Durant, the lanky 18-year-old who came into his own last season as he developed confidence and swagger.

Oden doesn't lack for awe-inspiring plays himself. There is nothing negative about the big guy who has his own crazy physical gifts, winning personality and huge upside to control games defensively as he grows offensively. He's a fantastic prospect.


"You can see why he is going to be the No. 1 player taken," Durant said Wednesday in midtown Manhattan. "I can't argue with that. He jumps so high, he runs so fast. I've never seen that in a center."

The only reason there is any debate, any hesitation by Pritchard, is because of the things Durant did to KU and everyone else in college basketball last season. Yes every basketball textbook tells you that you have to take a center.

But what textbook has ever seen Kevin Durant?

"I think so," Durant said when asked if that Kansas performance should cloud Pritchard's judgment. "I did a lot of different things in that game. I think I passed the ball well in that game because they double-teamed me. I swung the ball and got some open shots for my teammates. I didn't just score.


"Once my shot (started) falling (though), things happened."

Things will happen for Durant in the NBA. Big things. While you can't find many NBA people willing to take him over Oden, you can't find any who don't project him as a 10-time all-star in waiting or a 20-point-a-game scorer, maybe as a rookie.

One Central Division executive said he watched Durant at the Big 12 tournament as he averaged 30.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.7 steals and wondered, "Is he better than LeBron James?"

This is what Durant will do to you. These are the thoughts he makes you consider. This is the mesmerizing talent. These are the impossible performances that make the eyes of even grizzled scouts pop out, make them rewind the film and watch again just for fun.


This is the guy who hung 37 points and 23 rebounds on Texas Tech and left no less than Bob Knight wondering, "I mean what more does he have to do?"

Seriously, what more does he have to do?

Everyone says Kevin Pritchard would be crazy to pick Kevin Durant on Thursday. But how crazy would he be if he doesn't?