Many things happened in sports this year. This is not a particularly revealing statement, because many things happen in sports every year. In that sense, this year was not really a special year. In the same sense, no year is ever a special year in sports. It is a repeat of many things happening year after year - things you, as a fan of certain teams or players, may or may not enjoy. And one cynic might say: "How you - an average sports fan with no money or power - feel has little to no significance in the world of sports!" Did you just hear that? This is where you and I are supposed to start questioning why we ever invest so much into this silly human invention called sports.
But we know, of course, this is not how things work. At least we want to believe so. Otherwise how would we get compensated for all the time, money, emotions we wasted in following sports? Let's just say, for us die-hard sports fans, every year is a special year for one reason or another. Special things happen every year! In 2011, for example, the Washington Huskies lost to the Baylor Bears 56-67 in Alamo Bowl, giving up 777 total yards. Can you believe that? How amazing!
Many special things happened in sports this year. Some of them, I was lucky enough to witness in person, such as the M's getting perfect-game'd by a shitty relief pitcher or fans storming the filed after the Huskies beat Stanford in a stunning upset. Other events, I just heard or read about them on ESPN. And I am sure there were many truly special happenings that I am just not aware of, like, I don't know, an ex-refugee high school wrestler in Kalamazoo, Michigan advancing in the Statewide high school wrestling tournament. That would be a very special moment for the family and friends of my hypothetical high school wrestler!
For me, the most special sports moment of 2012 was, without any question, Barry Zito coming out of the game to standing ovation in Game 1 of the World Series, while Tim Lincecum was replacing Zito as a relief pitcher. Even as I am writing this, I cannot stop thinking about the moment. I mean, if you think about it, it is pretty damn weird. Who would have anticipated it at the beginning of the season?
But it is not the moment's unexpectedness why it was such a special moment for me. It was special because it was a story of true redemption, captured perfectly in the moment through the parallel between two individuals involved - Zito, who had to endure all kinds of ridicule, jeering, and probably lots of self-loathing and self-doubting, and Lincecum, who fell from the top of the world just like Zito had done a few years earlier. It was such a strange, yet beautiful moment. Chills went through my body when Zito tipped his hat to fans at AT&T Park. It was a near-perfect redemption story. The only way the story would have been truly perfect is if Zito pitched a gem and still lost, and the Giants ended up losing the World Series. That would be basically the most bittersweet country song played in the form of a baseball game.
For all the great stories sports bring to us about super talents, quirky oddballs, and underdogs, I love stories about redemption the most. I am just a total sucker for it. Because stories of true redemption are stories of human weaknesses and struggles, I can relate to them. I can relate to them to the extent I can relate to other human beings who have been exposed and struggle to overcome their weakness just like myself, the only difference being that they get paid millions of dollars while doing it.
It's hard to com across a true redemption story in college sports. A quick google search for "college basketball" and "redemption" returns an SI article about Larry Drew II on the top, which, ugh, that ain't a good redemption story at all. Perhaps that's because players are there for only 4 or 5 years, which is too a short period of time for someone to go through truly dramatic ups and downs. Another reason might be that these kids are still young, and we feel like they can turn things around in the future even when there is no legitimate basis to believe that. "Maybe Artem Wallace will be an awesome real estate agent!" you blurted back in 2008. Of course, you knew pretty much nothing about Artem Wallace then just like you know nothing about him now, except maybe that he was of some Russian descent, but you still just felt like the kid had a future, just because he was young. In the world of college sports often dominated by stories of hard working underdogs and traditional powers, good redemption stories are few and far between.
But In Abdul Gaddy, we might have truly a good redemption story.
When Gaddy chose Washington in 2008 over Arizona and UCLA, we all thought that he would lead us to great places. He is a true point guard you rarely see in college, they said, with great vision, feel for the game and leadership. He was Abdul Gaddy, No. 2 point guard in the entire nation, only behind the Great John Wall. The world was his.
In 2009, Gaddy started for Washington as a true freshman at point, averaging just over 18 minutes and 3.9 points per game with 1.35:1 Asst/TO ratio. It was a largely forgettable campaign, and he was not anywhere close to what people had expected him to be, but at least when he got into the lane he made some really crisp passes, reminding people every once in a while of why he was so highly regarded coming out of high school.
In 2010, everyone was excited about the Huskies, and there was a good reason for the excitement, with the way they blew out Virginia and played neck and neck with Kentucky and MSU in Maui. Gaddy once again started at point for the Huskies. His stats vastly improved in all categories from the previous year, including 3.2:1 Asst/TO ratio and .406 3P%. But Gaddy famously tore his ACL during practice after the LA trip, and Thomas took over the point position and showed everyone what a true domination at the point position looks like, making Gaddy look like crap in comparison. Just over the course of a year and a half, Gaddy fell from the top to bottom.
In 2011, Gaddy came back from the injury, once again becoming a starting point guard for the Huskies. He logged the most minutes in the team, but his stats regressed from 2010. He seemed to be a step slower compared to 2010 and was constantly compared and contrasted to explosive but unlikable Tony Wroten. The fan base was dramatically split on Gaddy. Some liked his deliberate, methodical style of play and argued that he was the calming influence the team needed; others hated him and insisted that his ceiling is a solid game manager, Alex Smith style.But in some of the games toward the end of the season - notably the UCLA game in which he had 12 assists to 2 turnovers - Gaddy looked like he might finally have taken that next step that we had all been waiting for. It wasn't quite like the USC game in Pondexter's junior year, where Pondexter buried one clutch mid-range jumper after another to save the season and finally announce his long-waited arrival, but you know, Gaddy had his moments.
What now? What of Gaddy now? Everyone knows that the 2012 team is Gaddy's team. Romar made it clear by taking Gaddy to the Pac-12 Media Day. The switch in offense should feature Gaddy's strengths better by supposedly putting him in a position to really orchestrate the offense, as opposed to the previous let's-dribble-around-and-see-what-happens offense. His knee should be back to 100% healthy, and there doesn't seem to be anyone who would eclipse Gaddy's leadership with his dominating personality.
Gaddy's career as a college basketball player has been a roller coaster ride: from a coveted 5 star recruit to a huge disappointment . Then a season ending knee injury after a promising start as a Sophomore, followed by a comeback as a junior. If Gaddy could perform at the all-conference first team level and lead the Dawgs to the Big Dance, his story would be one of those rare true redemption stories in college sports. I personally am skeptical about it - the Huskies lack quality big men for a true point guard like Gaddy to have a big year - but I will be happier than anyone to see Gaddy redeeming himself. Not because I have special feelings for Gaddy, but because I am just a sucker for good redemption stories. And if Gaddy kills the season and goes to NBA, only to suffer a career-ending knee injury in the last pre-season game of his rookie season, I promise I will write a country song in honor of Mr. Gaddy, something I wouldn't do for Mr. Zito. Because Mr. Zito's redemption story ended in a cliche happy ending, and that's not my favorite kind of redemption story.