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Outside of Blake Griffin and Ty Lawson's toe, the most talked about subject in college basketball over the past few days has been the vilification of Eric Devendorf.
The Big Lead named Devo the most hated player in all of college hoops, over the likes of Greg Paulus and Tyler Hansbrough.
I'll be completely honest. I hate Eric Devendorf too.
If you read this blog, then I'm sure you know. I'm a UConn fan. I'm not shy about admitting that. Devo is the most vocal player for Syracuse, so it only makes sense that I would hate him.
The difference is that I hate him for different reasons than you do.
Jameson Fleming wrote an excellent article defending Devo. I agree with most of what Fleming has to say. I do, however, disagree with one thing that Fleming wrote: that Devo is not a "punk".
When it comes down to it, Devo is a punk ... on the court. Saying nothing about him as a student and nothing about him as a father (because, by all accounts, he seems to be a good student and a fantastic father), on the court, he is a punk.
The trash talking, the excessive showboating after a made three, the "potty mouth" (it has been reported that after hitting what would have been the game-winning three against UConn, Devo screamed an F-bomb at the crowd when he jumped up onto the scorer's table). Those are the kind of things that make you a "punk."
But that isn't why I hate Devo.
In fact, that passion is one of the things I love about him.
I don't know Eric Devendorf, and odds are good that I will never meet him. But one thing I can tell you from watching him on the court is that this kid loves playing. He loves competing.
He thrives on being on the court in crucial situations. And nothing makes him happier than when he makes a critical play or hits a big shot in the face of a defender.
Rightfully so. If he wants to let that defender know about it after the fact, I have no problem with it. Trash talk has become a part of the game. Someone who will hit a big shot and quietly jog back on D is the exception these days. Not the rule.
I also have no problem at all with Devo jumping onto the scorer's table after burying the would-be game winner against UConn in the Big East Tournament.
Remember, we are talking about a 21-year-old kid that we already know is a fiery and emotional competitor who had just hit what would have been the biggest shot of his life.
To beat the No. 1 team in the country.
In the Big East Tournament.
At the basketball mecca, Madison Square Garden.
On national TV.
If you could hit that shot and not be fired up, then there is something wrong with you. Yes, his choice of words to yell into the crowd probably wasn't the best, but can you really blame a 21-year-old for letting a moment like that sway his judgement?
In an article written by Pat Forde, Gerry McNamara calls Devendorf "The best teammate I have ever played with. He would do anything for this team." And I believe it.
Anyone who saw the Syracuse-Seton Hall game the night before the six-OT marathon would agree.
After a little dust-up between Arinze Onuaku and John Garcia at one end, which resulted in some jawing between the two teams and double technicals, Kristoff Ongenaet was fouled very hard by a Seton Hall player as he went in for a lay-up on the next possession.
Who was the first guy into the fray to defend his teammate?
You guessed it.
You may criticize him for it, but I applaud him for it. As corny and cliche as it may sound, a sports team, especially one that plays at a level as high as Big East basketball, is a family. If you were playing a pick-up game, and someone fouled your brother the way Ongenaet was fouled, how would you react?
The hate he receives for his actions on the court pales in comparison to what he gets for his actions off the court. For starters, his appearance has caused many to label him "a douchebag" or "white trash."
I'm not even going to touch on the issues with labeling and stereotyping this kid because of his appearance, but if you hate people with manicured facial hair and tattoos covering their body, shouldn't you hate this guy too?
Devo's on-court arrogance and outward appearance made him disliked. An incident that occurred late in 2008 made him despised.
Details were unclear at first, but initial reports stated that Devo had hit a woman in the face at 3 a.m. after some sort of verbal altercation, which resulted in the school handing down a suspension for the rest of the school year.
As the stories were untangled and the women's credibility torn to shreds (apparently, her lawyer has even admitted that Devo did not hit her), Devo was reinstated after missing just two games.
While I doubt we will ever fully know what happened that night, it seems as if it was a drunken incident between two emotional people that was blown completely out of proportion.
That is why the majority of people out there hate Eric Devendorf.
So why do I hate him?
It is simple.
He plays for Syracuse, UConn's rival. And more than just wearing Orange, he is also, in my opinion, one of the most underrated players in the country, and probably the most valuable player on this team not named Flynn.
Devo is fast earning a reputation as one of the best clutch shooters in the country. If I'm a coach down three with 10 seconds left, I don't know if there are five players I would rather have taking the game-tying shot than this kid.
That is it. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I don't hate Devo because of his tattoos. I don't hate him because he never shuts his mouth on the court. I don't hate him because of an incident where everyone (including myself) jumped to a conclusion well before all the facts were on the table.
I hate him because I respect him as a player. I hate him because I know the shot he hit against UConn at the end of regulation on March 12 was no fluke. I hate him for the same reason I hate media darlings Jonny Flynn and Terrence Williams and hated guys like Roy Hibbert and the entire 2006 George Mason team.
I hate him because he stands between my UConn Huskies and success.