On Monday, the commonwealth’s latest homegrown hoops hero won a national AAU crown with his team, The Ville.
There was a symmetry in the confluence of these events. They present in microcosm how life was different in the years after WWII from today.
Wah Wah Jones grew up a hustler in hardscrabble eastern Kentucky. He went for it all day, every day, be it buying whatever low and selling high, grabbing a board for the Baron, or beating his blocker for the Bear.
Jones was a two sport, nay three sport star. Maybe more, had the day more than 24 hours. A huckster, he could, they say turn a nickel into a dime with the best of them. And still had time to swing from a rope into the water at the quarry with his pals and gals.
Jones grew up when the need for specialization hadn’t taken us hostage.
He was everyman. Okay, everyman with a lot of athletic talent and drive.
What shall become of Raymond Spalding is a tale still in the making.
But I couldn’t help but think of the recently departed Wah Wah Jones yesterday noon, as I observed Spalding sleepwalk through his team’s semi-final W over Team Nashville in subtly titled AAU National Championship Super Showcase, or some such.1
Spalding, U of L’s latest hometown b-ball commitment, didn’t show for the noon tip. Figuratively, that is.
He was outjumped by a shorter foe on the opening tip. Traveled on his first offensive touch. Threw a bad pass away on his next. Failed to hustle to get a less than perfect feed on the next.
Coach David Levitch pulled him two and a half minutes into the tilt. The Trinity kid didn’t score until the 3:36 mark of the 3d quarter, and tallied only four more points in the victory.
He obviously has talent. He’s coordinated. Runs the court. Is quick to the ball when he wants to be. Has good hands, and reasonably deft touch. Sees the court and can make the good pass. Huge upside.
He wasn’t moping about. But he sure didn’t put his signature on the game.2
By all accounts, Spalding is a humble kid, willing to learn, aiming to excel.
Maybe the events of the last few weeks just caught up with him yesterday morning. Given the suitors for his talents, I’ll assume it was a throwaway game, and leave it alone.[He scored 15 later in the day in the title game.[/ref]
How many basketball games have he and his mates played this summer here in the nationals and hither and yon in other tourneys? Have they had time to hang by the pool? Play a game of pick up softball? Kick a soccer ball around?
Back in the day — way back in the day, I’m talking here, the Eisenhower years — kids played ’em all. A pick up, imaginary man on 1st, baseball game in the park in the morning. Three on three in the alley behind Richard’s house in the afternoon. A game of water volleyball somewhere in between, mostly to impress Cindy, of course.
There are no Wah Wah Jones anymore. The time for Bo Jackson and Gene Conely has passed.
Any kid these days with the least bit of athletic talent chooses a sport early on and locks in. Be it basketball, soccer, or the latest craze, lacrosse. The multi-sport phenom is a thing of the past.
When I was a kid in this town, there was Kenny Kuhn. At Male High, on Thanksgiving Day, he beat up on Manual, was a wunderkind on the hardwood, eventually signing a bonus to play the national pastime with the Cleveland Indians.
No more. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s simply the way of the world these days. Evolution.
And yesterday, the difference between then and now was on full display.
A moment of silence and respect for Wah Wah Jones, among the greatest athletes ever produced in these parts.
A moment to look forward for hoopster Raymond Spalding, whose big days on the hardwood are yet to come.
— Seedy K