Samarie Walker to land at Kentucky
Freshman forward from Ohio reportedly has enrolled to play for Wildcats
When director/writer John Hughes passed away last summer, critics lauded his success in keenly capturing the drama and comedy of teenage angst. Hughes was of the belief than no people on earth take themselves more seriously than teenagers do, even if they don't always act with an understanding of serious consequences.
I remember reading that and thinking, "That's so true but if you told teenagers that they would find it very condescending and insulting."
The thing is, though, that can be said by adults without condescension or insult intended. No one has figured out a way yet to become an adult without being a teenager first. So we know it's hard to have a great deal of perspective until you've had a great many experiences. And if you're a teenager going through difficult times, they might seem insurmountable.
I bring all this up for "part 2" of writing about the Samarie Walker situation. As has been reported by multiple outlets, the freshman forward is transferring from UConn to Kentucky. Her wish to relocate to Lexington, Ky., apparently came as a big surprise to UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who had related earlier that Walker had said she'd been losing her passion for basketball since 10th grade.
There will be fans who are irritated with Walker, believing that she was dishonest about her intentions and somewhat took UConn for a ride. But I think that Walker probably never intended to do anything like that.
Some might say I'm giving her too much benefit of the doubt and that if teenagers can go die in wars they don't need any coddling about decision-making. But I don't think it's coddling to try to understand how and why this happened.
After reviewing various media accounts of conversations/confrontations of the past few days as Walker made her exit from UConn -- reportedly to the dismay of her parents -- I came away believing this is a young woman who never truly had a "passion" to play in Connecticut but might not have been able to verbalize why.
She seems to have made the choice to go to Storrs, Conn., at least in part, to please her parents and probably because it's incredibly hard to turn down a program and people of that stature when they want you. It can surely seem like the perfect dream to join the juggernaut, the program that gets championships and big crowds and lots of media exposure.
But those things can end up not having much value at all if you're lonely or homesick or missing things that bring you peace of mind and a sense of security.
If you're a student-athlete in this situation, the sport can become a loathsome chore, because it's the reason you are where you are. It's not much of a stretch to see why someone feeling that way might look back on the whole process of when recruiting began in earnest as a time when she "started to lose the passion."
Lexington is about a two and a half hour drive from Walker's home in Dayton, Ohio, and there might be any number of reasons why she'd be more personally comfortable there. Proximity to people who are important to her is very likely the biggest part of it, but regional familiarity could play a factor, too.
Kentucky has never been to a Women's Final Four, let alone won an NCAA title. But it has been a program on the ascent, going to the Elite Eight last year. The demands on a student-athlete aren't going to be much different there than they were at UConn.
Auriemma and Wildcats coach Matthew Mitchell might not have the same personality, but they're both going to have expectations of effort and commitment that must be met.
If this really is a matter of her not having the desire to conquer the challenges of playing Division I hoops, Walker will be no better off athletically in Lexington than she was in Storrs.
But by the same token, if she does have success with the Wildcats, that won't be an indicator that anything was really "wrong" at UConn. Odds are, the biggest factor is that UConn just geographically wasn't in the right place for Walker.
I hesitate to make generalizations, because there are so many factors that go into a college choice and so many different personalities who make that choice.
But in all the years I've been covering women's college basketball, I just can't remember too many players who ever said they truly regretted staying closer to home to play when they had that option.
Certainly, there are many who were very glad they didn't do that and had great success far from home.
But I really do think sometimes in the recruiting process, especially when one of the options is a program with the status of UConn, players don't always know how to gauge what's most important to them.
They might feel an obligation to make other people happy -- but end up resenting that they did that. Trying to work their way through that intellectually and emotionally is difficult, let alone trying to explain it to people who are going to be disappointed and probably at least a little angry.
These things happen in college sports. I'm actually surprised they don't happen even more often. I empathize with the coaches, the parents and the players, too, in such situations. If one were trying to sum up the root "cause," he or she might say that it stems from teenagers having to make really big decisions.
Said with compassion, not condescension.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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