On Monday, we learned of the passing of the commonwealth’s first homegrown hoops hero, Wah Wah Jones.
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
1 thought on “Tuesday’s Double Dribble: Wah Wah Jones & Raymond Spalding”
Wah Wah and Dickey Parsons, legends of Harlan Ky where I grew up…those were the days….
Too bad your Cayuts now are led by (semi?-) pros that are basically one year rentals with cash waiting at the turnstile on the way out 9 months after “school” starts.
I saw coach Cow in vegas this past weekend; staying at the Wynn with traitor Kenny Payne. They were there for some AAU event that meant the town was crawling with 15-18 year old kids. Now, don’t think for a minute (wink-wink) that some of these future stars weren’t being feted at the higher priced bars & grills by street agents trying to steer the gifted toward one institution or the other. I am sure that these agents have zero funding from the schools/coaches/boosters. I was glad Rick stayed home–although our New Coach was there looking slim sucking down low cal colas.
By chance, Kenny P sat down at a black jack table where I was on Friday night. He was wearing a UK shirt (don’t they all?) and I announced him to the table as Coach Kenny Payne. I am sure he thought I was a Cayut fan until I started gigging him over who he was looking at and how much they cost! I am sure it didn’t take him long to figure out I was Red through and through. He took it well but once he figured out my true colors, he stopped giving out any info regarding who, why and How Much?
But back to your point. In the good ol’ days, talented kids played all the seasonal sports, usually until college age. Even then some were good enough to play multiple sports in college (Josh Tinch and “hands of stone” Josh Chichester most recently for the Cards) and even like Gene C you referenced, in the pros. (Remember also Dave DeBuschiere, and others..) This meant they had less time to become fixated on one endeavor and exposed to the Brandon Benders of the world whose only interest in the player is the hook’em up backhanded payoff, not to mention the injures caused by repetitive use injuries.
Even in baseball, the proliferation of Tommy John elbows are more than likely caused by lengthened seasons for the young pitchers trying to impress and gain college schollies or pro bonus baby money..
I doubt Mr Jones would have ever been party to a handler steering him in high school, tho I am equally sure he enjoyed many $50 hand shakes like most of Bears and Rupp’s boys at the time. But somehow, it seemed much more innocent then, rewarding the boys for a good ol college try so they could take Susie out for a steak or chicken dinner at the Parkside, or even to get a pint or two of Old Fo’.
But the rent-a-player-world we live in now seems tawdry and degrading to me for some reason. The streets of Vegas last weekend just confirmed that to me. Bring back the 50’s and maybe I wouldn’t hate your Cayuts quite so much.
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