Blog readers, sorry for not posting much the past few weeks, been busy with that whole graduation thing. Vanderbilt actually let me walk out of there with a degree, so 200,000 or so dollars later I got the piece of paper saying: I did it. Anyway, with graduation, beach week, and finals now out of the way, I can resume blogging with a fervor as I will now be taking some time off and enjoying the comforts of my home for the first time in 9 months for the foreseeable future.
In today's post, I touch on a topic that has always kind of bothered me since my freshman year, and that is the perception by fans, media, and students of AJ Ogilvy. I was only on campus for a year with AJ, as he left after his junior year, but during that year I always felt AJ got the short end of the stick from the aforementioned parties.
To put it simply, AJ is one of the 10 or 15 most talented players Coach Stallings has coached at Vanderbilt. He is right up there with Shan Foster, Derrick Byars, John Jenkins, Matt Freije, and others guys like that. Had he stayed for his senior year, he would have been one of the best players in Vanderbilt history and a leader in a number of statistical categories. I think that when AJ had such a phenomenal freshman season averaging 17 points and 9 rebounds, he created incredibly large expectations for himself, that he couldn't quite live up to. However, just because he didn't average those gaudy numbers again, doesn't mean he did not have a successful career with the Commodores or was a "disappointment" after that year.
In addition to never putting up the kind of numbers he put up as a freshman, AJ received a lot of flak, both directly and indirectly, for just being himself. AJ didn't act like your stereotypical SEC center. He frosted the tips in his hair, wore skinny jeans, and even grew out a mustache. He read indie music magazines and was just as likely to be at Cafe Coco listening to music late night as he was to be watching a basketball game. Basketball didn't encapsulate his identity or his interests, and I feel like that was held against him by a lot of people.
I also think AJ's willingness to be his own guy and pursue his other interests, made him an easy target for fans and media. He was called soft by countless people over the year and derided for not being tough. Just because AJ didn't scowl like Kendrick Perkins of the Oklahoma City Thunder does, or play the physical brand of basketball Festus and Steve played, doesn't make him soft. His game and competitive advantage was based on his finesse, his excellent footwork, soft hands, and high basketball IQ. He didn't need to be physically dominant or fearsome looking to have success on the court, and he had a lot of success.
A lot of the criticisms he faced, are the same ones Pau Gasol faces. Despite being a multiple time NBA champion and one of the best big men of his generation, Gasol can't escape the "soft" label no matter what he does, primarily because his game is not based on being physically dominant but using his incredible skillset, and not just his size to his advantage. AJ was similar in the way he used his skillset to his advantage.
As fans and outside observers, whose only interactions with these student athletes often comes when watching the games, it is easy to expect the players to only be wrapped up in basketball. As fans, you all go through the ups and downs of a given season, and when a player doesn't live up to expectations on the court, it is easy to criticize them. We all do it. I do it, you do it, my grandma does it. It is human nature to do it. However, what people forget is that the players they are rooting for are 18 to 22 years old.
While some of them like John Jenkins and Rod Odom, eat, live, and breathe basketball, and spend most of their free time studying the game or working out, not everybody is wired that way. And that is not a bad thing. Just because AJ had interests outside of basketball, doesn't mean he cared any less about the team or winning than those guys did. When he was at the gym, whether playing in a game or at practice, he gave it his all and just because he was not consumed with basketball 24/7 shouldn't diminish the way others view him, or lead to the belief that he was soft.
AJ Ogilvy was one of the best players to come through Vanderbilt during my time there and he deserves to be remembered as such.