The Vanderbilt Vendidad

Uncomfortably warm pendant light fixture on: AJ Ogilvy

You can find this article and more at the Nashville Newzine.

I didn’t see the Mississippi State loss coming. The Dores had steamrolled their first-round opponent, the ever-dangerous Georgia Bulldogs, and came into the Mississippi State game looking bewildered and sleepless.

In fact, with the exception of “Brad Tinsley got his shot back,” I can’t think of a good thing to say about that game. But no player laid quite the egg that A.J. Ogilvy laid, earning him the night’s “Skuchas Award,” which goes to the player who has a game so bad that, one could argue, a four-man team would have fared better.

The game brought up some serious issues between me, a fan, and Ogilvy, Vandy’s star center. Which is why he’s the topic of this column.

A.J. Ogilvy is a frustrating player to cheer for.  There. I said it.

I’m not interested in insulting collegiate players (and don’t even pretend “collegiate” is a word that could apply to DeMarcus Cousins), but even if I was, I would feel compelled to defend Ogilvy from his detractors.

I think the Mississippi State game serves as a perfect illustrative microcosm:

Towards the end of the game, when Vanderbilt finally got something going and cut the Bulldogs’ lead to three, I considered our big men, who had been most problematic for the night. 

Steve Tchiengang had been playing poorly, and had contributed almost nothing to the cause.

Festus Ezeli had been playing poorly in the second half.

And Ogilvy, the star and elder statesman, had been playing abysmally, contributing significantly to the Mississippi State cause. He was awkward with the ball, he walked (thrice!), he dropped passes, and he looked generally disinterested.

And yet, for reasons I couldn’t explain at the time, I wanted him in the game.

The reason isn’t confusing or complex. It’s simple: A.J. Ogilvy is an enormously talented player. We had a shot at getting out from under the Bulldogs, but not without Ogilvy.

This is the reason some fans have trouble with Ogilvy. When Festus Ezeli has a bad game, it’s probably because Festus is a relative newcomer to the game of basketball, and is not very technically sound. When Steve Tchiengang has a bad game, it’s just because he left everything on the court in the previous game. But when Ogilvy plays poorly, it just feels like a waste.

A.J.’s issues are rarely with his athleticism, his strength, or his coordination. They’re with his focus. Passes bouncing off his hands. Going to the basket weak, like the ball going through the hoop would be mere icing on the foul-cake.

(Bear with me, A.J., or A.J.’s girlfriend, or A.J.’s mom or dad. I’m getting to something good.)

And yet, despite one of his worst games ever, I wanted A.J. in the game against Mississippi State. It’s the same reason I want him in every NCAA tournament game: A.J. Ogilvy is the backbone of this team.

Vandy fans aren’t used to having a strong presence under the basket, but that’s what gives this team the much-ballyhooed “balance” it has. Ogilvy doesn’t have to blow up; he just has to show up.

“This team can be great” is a conditional statement, and that condition is A.J. Ogilvy. Could Murray State upset Vanderbilt in the first round? Of course! And if the Dores play like they did against Mississippi State, you can bet on it.

But could Vanderbilt be a Final Four team? Absolutely.

And if this happens, you can bet that it will be because of the impressive play of a certain tall, emo-music-loving, frosted-tip-having, Disney-movie-tweeting Australian center.

I will close with an analogy:

If this team is the 80’s band Genesis (post-Gabriel), Ogilvy is Phil Collins.

If he’s having a bad night, it’s up to the talent around him to put something together without a drummer. This team, like Genesis, is talented enough to do so from time to time. But they sure can’t put on a whole concert without him. And if he’s on—and I mean really, really on… Wow. We’re talking “Sussudio.”

Let’s have a Sussudio tournament, A.J.. You’re our Phil Collins.

16 March 2010

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