“Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.” – Cyril Connolly
During Abdul Gaddy‘s first two seasons at the University of Washington, no televised game went by without the broadcast crew making mention of the fact that seemed like it was part of his full name: In 2009, when Gaddy was coming out of Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep, he was rated the No. 2 point guard in the nation behind John Wall.
That note still appears in the media guide, but as it became clear Gaddy was no Wall, those mentions became less frequent. The lofty ranking and the comparison with an NBA-bound star no longer felt like a source of pride but instead a cruel taunt.
There was always a false equivalence at play when Wall was referenced just because the two happened to play the same position. Wall was rated the No. 1 overall prospect in the country and needed only to avoid crashing and burning at Kentucky to be taken with the top pick of the 2010 NBA Draft. Gaddy was actually rated 11th by RSCIHoops.com’s consensus, putting him directly behind washout Tiny Gallon.
Still, Gaddy was a major prospect and the subject of a conference-wide recruiting battle that saw him initially sign with Arizona. I don’t know what the scouts saw when they watched Gaddy play in high school. I saw one of his games, during the annual King Holiday Hoopfest tournament at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, and came away somewhat underwhelmed. Gaddy was the best player on the court, certainly, but not the kind of singular talent the recruiting services suggested. I chalked that up to a mid-level high school game failing to showcase the court vision that was Gaddy’s strength, but when he arrived on campus, Gaddy showed little more in terms of high-level athleticism.
Maybe things would have been different had Gaddy not torn the ACL in his left knee. After all, he was 17 for most of his freshman season, making him the youngest player in the nation and a baby compared to some prep school products. (Teammate Shawn Kemp, Jr., for one, was 20 throughout his entire freshman campaign.) Before the untimely injury, Gaddy’s sophomore campaign was off to a solid start. He was making 55 percent of his twos and 40 percent of his threes, and while those numbers were due to come down against stiffer competition in conference play, Gaddy has never approached those shooting marks again.
For now, let’s stipulate that the scouts were in fact wrong about Gaddy. Here’s the thing: Nobody criticizes them for making a mistake, in part because of the overwhelming recruiting groupthink that makes it difficult if not impossible to single out any individual because of a bad evaluation. (No one had Gaddy ranked higher than 10th or lower than 16th.) More importantly, they’re not the ones out there running the point on a nightly basis. So all the blame has gone to the player. Gaddy has become the symbol for all the frustration Washington fans feel about the past four years, the subject of abuse if not scorn from the people who are supposed to be his fans.
There are few things more important to evaluating players than setting fair expectations. That goes double for amateur athletes, who suffer on-court scrutiny beyond their paygrade. What Gaddy owed the program, and fans, is the same thing any player does — working hard, representing UW well and giving his best effort. Has any of that ever been in question?
Gaddy worked his way back from one of the most devastating injuries an athlete can suffer. To the extent he struggled for reasons within his control, it was precisely because he lost confidence — in no small part because of the relentless criticism. If the goal of fandom is to see your team be as successful as possible, criticizing a player with a fragile psyche is overwhelmingly counter-productive.
Let’s talk about Gaddy’s performance. Here are the career stats for two point guards during the Lorenzo Romar era. Can you tell which of them is Gaddy?
G AST TO A/TO PPG APG RPG --------------------------------------------------- Player A 121 515 314 1.64 9.2 4.3 2.8 Player B 114 440 242 1.82 7.6 3.9 2.4
Player B is Gaddy and Player A is Will Conroy, one of the most popular Huskies in program history. Conroy is the better player, to be sure — he ultimately reached the NBA because he was a superior scorer and much better defender whose intangibles remain legendary. But it’s important to keep in mind the differences between the two players’ careers. Conroy arrived on campus as a walk-on, an unheralded recruit during a period when the entire Washington basketball program was an afterthought. By the time both he and the team were good enough to generate any expectations, Conroy was surrounded by talent like former Garfield teammate Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Bobby Jones and Tre Simmons. They grew together into a Pac-10 power.
By contrast, Gaddy’s college career has been much more uneven. After his injury, he had to find a way to coexist with the mercurial Tony Wroten as a junior. The departure of Wroten and Terrence Ross for the NBA last summer has forced Gaddy into the uncomfortable position of being the Huskies’ primary creator on offense. It’s also given him no choice but to be a leader, a role which he’s slowly embraced over the second half of this season. In another scenario, the areas in which Gaddy is not Conroy’s equal may never have been nearly so important.
On Saturday, Gaddy will be one of three seniors honored for their service to the University of Washington. Depending on where the Huskies land for postseason play, it might be the last time he takes the court at Hec Ed. I hope we don’t hear anything about John Wall, but instead about how Gaddy ranks third in school history in assists — and still has a chance to surpass Chester Dorsey for second by the end of the season. I hope Gaddy gets an enormous ovation. And I hope he finds some matter of satisfaction at the end of a career that should not be judged by his recruiting ranking.