I am not a devoted fan, though sometimes I feel like I should or could be given my basketball past. I did however score some of those free tickets to the game yesterday vs. Minnesota, and I have a thing or two to say. Okay, just one. I think you all are making too big of a deal about Jenna Smith. Yeah, I know she made honorable mention All-American last year, and maybe it's because I played on a team that had an All American every year--sometimes two. But by *only* and always spotlighting this one player, you are hurting this team in more ways than you know, but in ways I will try to explain to you.
First off, the hype contributes to what is apparently the game plan to defeat Illinois: shut down Smith, and you notch a victory. Now it might be argued that this would be the game plan regardless, and it might, but if this year's recruiting class is in fact the second best in the country, then how about talking about the freshmen? I left the game not knowing who the first years were or even how many there were; instead, I can now tell anyone who cares that Jenna Smith likes to chew 6 different kinds of gum before games, and also that she prefers Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings (much to the dismay of Illini fans, in fact). If you are going to cultivate long-term fans, you have GOT to get people interested in watching players' careers as they develop, rather than always flaunting your one star player. Tennessee fans, by contrast, were so devoted that they became obsessed with the players who didn't start the game. They waved signs to put us in the game. They knew we could contribute, that we had to contribute for the team to be successful. At least four players were sent to the press conference after the game, usually at least one nonstarter. We were a team. Our All Americans were phenomenal, to be sure, but we made them better by scoring when we needed to.
Secondly (and relatedly), by always putting Smith in front of cameras, in the headlines, etc., you are ignoring some very good players who might be made better with a little more hype. For example, yesterday, number 21 had a phenomenal game. Her name is Macie Blinn, but I just had to look her up on the website to make sure that was her name. She kept the team in yesterday's game. Smith had a pretty crappy game actually (she needs to toughen up a little if you ask me), but Blinn did what she needed to do: got steals, made good passes, tore down rebounds, and scored 16 points. And I don't even think she started the game (though she did the second half). The first headline I saw, though, was that Smith scored 21 points. I'll bet she did! She shot like 80 times! This is not her fault, but rather how the offense is designed. And the hype machine.
Finally, if you emphasized some of the other players, Smith would be free to focus on her role on the team. My god, she has great mobility and really wonderful hands. I would love to feed her pass after pass--she catches everything. And she is only a junior. Luckily all the attention doesn't seem to be going to her head, yet. Don't force the issue, or worse, burn her out.
Hey! I just figured out that Blinn is one of those awesome freshmen. There we go. My point here is that this is a team. Not a beehive, not a monarchy. You would do Smith a favor if you pulled back and focused on some of her teammates. Give little kids a range of players to holler for; give devoted fans a sense of the talents of the other players, reasons to come back to games after a star has graduated. Jenna Smith--and the team--would be better for it.