Thursday, March 4, 2021

Under-Rated, Under-Rated

So TigerBlog wrote about Ahmed El-Nokali earlier week, as you recall.

It had to do with the fact that he saw someone who looked like Ahmed while he was out riding his bike the other day. That got him thinking about when El-Nokali was a Princeton basketball player and then the times TB would see him after he graduated.

TB then received an email from a longtime Princeton basketball observer who said that El-Nokali might be the most underrated member of the program he's seen. It's an interesting point.

What makes an athlete underrated? 

In many ways, it's a function of who else was on the team at the time. Or the time you came along.

If you're playing with another superstar player, then you'll often be viewed in that players shadow. This can result in having you be underrated in your own right.

Or, conversely, if your team played in another team's shadow, then the same thing can happen. 

There's a certain respect that comes from being an underrated athlete. It's the opposite of the derogatory "over-rated, over-rated" chants that rain down from crowds at teams or players they are trying to mock.

By the way, TB has never really understood that chant. If your team is beating a supposedly great team and you start chanting "over-rated," are you suggesting that if your team could beat that team then that team probably wasn't as good as everyone said it was? Aren't you selling your own team short?

So is El-Nokali the most underrated Princeton men's basketball player in the last few decades? El-Nokali can fall under another heading for underrated athletes - he was so consistently solid that he was often taken for granted.

When you are that consistent, you are often thought of as unspectacular, which can lead to underrated status. El-Nokali certainly qualifies there.

TB will give you another name.

TB has always thought that the player he's seen who could best be described as "underrated" has been Will Venable. Also, the more Venable goes down the path of being a successful Major League Baseball coach after his long playing career, the more he's forgotten as a basketball player.

Venable was as good as it gets in so many ways as a Princeton basketball player. He was a great defender. He was explosive. He was a 1,000-point scorer. 

More than that, he was always at his best when the stakes were highest. He would regularly be the best player on the court against the better teams.

Venable played nine seasons in the Major Leagues and hit 81 home runs with a .249 career batting average and a .779 OPS. He also stole 138 bases, something that not many players try to do anymore.

Could Venable have played in the NBA? In the right circumstance, yes, though he might not have been a good enough three-point shooter in the modern edition of the league. 

When the greatest Princeton men's basketball players of the last 30 or so years are discussed, it seems like Venable's name is often left out of the conversation. That's a mistake. It also makes him very, very underrated. 

Venable these days is a coach for the Boston Red Sox. He is on his way to becoming a Major League manager, and his name was in the mix for some jobs this past off-season.

In addition to playing basketball at Princeton, Venable was also a baseball player. There's a picture of him at bat against Cornell where you can see that he is following through on his swing and the ball is just in front of the bat.

This either means that he was badly in front of an off-speed pitch (unlikely) or that he's already made contact and the ball has been crushed. TB has always suspected the latter.

Maybe that's why he's so underrated as a basketball player. Maybe that's another category - you achieved so much more in a different sport.

Most baseball fans probably don't even realize that Venable was a basketball player too at one point.

He wasn't only a basketball player. He was a great basketball player.  

Underrate him at your own risk.

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