Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A.J. Ogilvy: The Most Polarizing Figure in Vanderbilt History

Every Vandy fan has an opinion on A.J. Ogilvy.

Few players are more perplexing than the big Aussie. He is sensational and frustrating all rolled into one. He smoothly operates in the post at times, and then head-scratchingly drops an easy post feed at others.

Perhaps it's overly dramatic to say, but the outlook of our program depends on what A.J. decides to do this offseason.

In my opinion, losing to Murray State puts the program in a holding pattern where it had been on a promising rise. The 2008 loss to Siena is no longer a set-back, it's the beginning of a plateau. We were once a team that could peak at the right time, now we're a team that just doesn't peak when it really counts.

And we can completely change all of that, but I'm not sure we can do it if there's no A.J.

I emphasize sure because if he does disspell all the rumors floating around that he won't be back at Vandy next season, then we will be a top-20 program with battle-tested players in both the front and back court. With A.J.'s scoring ability in the post and improvement from both Jenkins and Taylor, we could have a very balanced scoring unit. Tinsley and Fuller would provide a nice change of pace look at the point. Stevie Thunder and Andre Walker would have more veteran seasoning, which would hopefully lead to more production in their overall game. We could redshit Josh Henderson and let him get a little bigger, and perhaps most importantly, we would give Big Fez an ability to improve even more without requiring him to shoulder the load as our starting 5. I am sure that these things will happen if A.J. were to return.

But if you subtract A.J. from the equation, I'm no longer sure of anything. True, Jenkins and Taylor will likely improve, but a significant portion of our offense will be lost. Losing Jermaine Beal is already tough, losing A.J. with him is even tougher. Like him or not, A.J. is our best scoring threat in the post. Without him, I am very unsure that our front court can score; at least not with the same balance that we enjoyed this year. What's more than that, we would lack depth in the front court, as well as the back court. Those are all issues that concern me.

There is always the possibility that we come out of this offseason better than ever, and that in reality the season we had circled on the calendar for almost 2 years was not this one, but in fact was next. I'd feel pretty confident in agreeing with that statement if A.J. Ogilvy was our starting center next year. But without A.J., I just don't know. It's not a lack of faith in Stallings or any of the players; we have a very talented squad that still has room to grow. It's the fact that A.J., like him or hate him, is just that important.

Not to mention that he still has some room to grow too.


VandyFan said...

Can someone point me to some links where AJ is talking about not coming back? I have heard a rumor here and there.. but I have never found any sources for the rumors. Surely he is not talking about going pro, so where is it exactly that he would go to? Any info would be great.

He is the most perplexing/frustrating player I have ever watched at Vandy.

Anchor of Gold said...

Like you, I get that people sometimes get frustrated when AJ (or any other player for that matter) makes a mistake. I just don't understand why AJ draws the ire quite as well as he does...

Seriously. He's human. He's as prone to mistakes as anyone else.

At the same time though, he has sacrificed himself for the team for three seasons. He takes an unbelievable physical pounding in the paint. (I should know, my basketball seats are front and center under the away team basket -- I'm not sure there is anyone with a more up close and personal view of how brutal life in the paint is in the SEC). Frankly, it's an incredible testiment to his toughness that he's able to absorb so many blows from opposing teams and not have sustained any serious injury. We're talking about a player that is sitting in 6th place in fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

AJ is a mighty player, without whom the team would be in shambles. Frankly, the treatment he's receiving from the Commodore family is nothing short of embarrassing and shameful.

Bottom line: AJ deserves better than what an embarrassingly large number of Vandy fans are giving him. I won't blame him in the least if he decides to take his game to the professional level. It's sad to see so many take for granted such a talent.

AJ is already obviously a big man. I hope and pray that he proves to be the "bigger man" when it comes to this foul treatment he's been getting and decides to return -- not for the fans, but for his teammates and coaches.

Please come back, AJ. We need you way more than you need us.

Anchor of Gold said...

I'm not trying to insinuate that VSL is to blame for any of the ugliness on the part of Vandy fans.

Just wanted to make sure to clarify that.

Bobby O'Shea said...

I'll say more about Stanimal's article later, but I agree 100% with AoG, the vitriol that Commodore fans direct at A.J is misguided and disproporitionate. I understand fans like (or need) a punching bag, but I don't think A.J. is deserving of that particular distinction.

Stanimal said...

And I certainly don't mean to come off negatively about A.J. In fact, I meant quite the opposite. I really think this team needs A.J., and I am not sure we can reach our peak without him next year.

Anonymous said...

Would be sad if we lost him. Apparently some of his Vandy friends are saying that he entered into the NBA draft today...

Douglas James said...

VandyFan - There hasn't been any public statements that I know. Just rumors around campus according to people who post on various Vanderbilt sports sites most notably Vandysports.com (Vanderbilt's Rivals site). While this is far from concrete all I have been saying is that the people who have posted on this have tended to be right more than often when it comes to rumors (whether it be on commitments, players leaving, coaching moves, whatever). I REALLY want AJ back but am preparing myself mentally for the fact that he might be leaving. Also if I was advising AJ I would tell him to go through the NBA draft process but NOT to sign with an Agent, That way he come back to school if he isn't happy with how the process continues. I forget how the NBA works. I think its like baseball where you can come back even if your drafted where in football your gone. But I'm not sure.

Douglas James said...

In all my comments and posts on this site the one above is the most poorly written I can remember. Jeez! Sorry hahaha.

Anonymous said...

you missed an r in 'redshirt' in reference to Henderson

Seamus O'Toole said...

From what Bobby has told me, this vitriol primarily manifested itself in the student section at games. Since I was only able to attend one game in person this year, I can't really comment on that -- but it must have gotten really ugly from what y'all say. I do think people have expressed frustration with AJ on the blogs, but I don't recall seeing him get completely abused or scapegoated by a mob. Maybe I'm just out of it but, for example, when O'Shea wrote a post a few weeks back scolding Vanderbilt fans for dogging AJ, I seem to recall only one person tried to argue with him. Are VSL commenters a non-representative sample of the fan base? (Wait, don't answer that.)

All that being said, I do think it's psychologically frustrating for fans to see a guy go from averaging 17 and 7 as a freshman to 15 and 7 as a sophomore to 13 and 6 as a junior, and to watch his FG% regress from 59% to 54% to 51%. Obviously some of that has to do with how other teams defend him and our own supporting cast, but stats aside I think there were many times when Vandy fans sensed AJ wasn't that well conditioned, wasn't playing that hard, and/or seemed content (if not relieved) just to get to the line.

Not trying to be an apologist for people who may be out there destroying this kid without cause, because I think he's been huge for this team and program and I hope he doesn't feel like the fans threw him under the bus when they needed someone to blame. But I'm curious to know what people think the other side of the story is, if there is one.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that many students see his size and expect him to jump over people for monster dunks and be that big bruiser in the middle. However that isn't totally his game as he is a more finesse type player on the offense side of the ball, which cause people to think he is soft. Any student that rags on him, will quickly learn how much he meant to this team if he leaves.

AJ needs to come back to this team

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with everything said here and in the article. If we lose AJ, I'm not sure how much I like our chances. Has anyone seen Festus Ezeli shoot a free throw? It's embarrassing. I love his energy on the court, especially on the defensive end, but neither he nor "Stevie Thunder" are anywhere close to the developed offensive player that AJ is.

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Unknown said...

who is AJ on the floor? that's what i can't figure out. he doesn't play like a big middle man and he doesn't play like a dirk nowitzki type either. he has no outside shot and he has no real physical presence. i wish he would pick a "type" and do it. if he could do that, i think he could be a great player. i just feel like he's a wuss in the middle most of the time but i see flashes of a tough player.

Anonymous said...

i'm scared

AD said...

I think there's a relevant disconnect between the writers (the careful thinkers at VSL, AoG, etc.) and the fans, especially those who comment here and in the live blogs.

Since I've been critical of AJ on this site, and since no other critics have stepped up, I'll try to explain the reasonable view of critics in the context of the disconnect between Bobby, Stanimal, Douglas, AoG, etc., who have defended him consistently.

VSL writers have always said something along the following lines: "We can't give up on AJ. He is a critical part of this offense. The offense should run through him. The team needs to keep trying to get AJ involved. The team is better when AJ is involved in the offense. AJ is a necessary part of this offense."

Thoughtful commenters do not disagree with this position. AJ is a big man with lots of potential. Successful basketball offenses run through their seven footers. Vanderbilt needs AJ as part of the equation if they're going to be successful. The team is better when AJ is a positive contributor.

The disconnect is between the normative and the descriptive. Unless he or she is jealous of CKS' job, nobody disagrees that the above is what should happen. The source of the disconnect, and the source of the frustration, comes from what actually happens on the court most games.

I attended most of the home games this season, and I've been attending games since AJ's freshman year. Although my seats weren't as good as the AoG rep's, I could see what was going on. What I saw was a player who did not live up to (what we thought was) his potential. I went to a college with a team that had a player like AJ: seven-footer, grew up a star in a foreign country (South Africa). Foreign big men seem to lack aggression when they first enter American leagues. As AoG pointed out, the paint scene in the SEC is rough, and I figured AJ would be bandied around, especially as a freshman. And he was at first, but like John Cleese, he got better. By the end of his first year, he was playing with drive and was showing all kinds of improvement.

Maybe I wasn't watching closely enough, but I don't think he continued to improve in years two and three. The people I go to games with agreed that he regressed after his first year, rather than continued to improve.

Specifically, what am I (and other critical commenters) talking about? A lot of it is lack of aggression. Instead of taking it strong to the hoop, he likes to put it on the floor and try to draw a foul. He does this even when he has a height advantage, which he often does. That's probably the biggest and most frustrating thing. Right after that is rebounding. The man's not Ben Wallace, but he ought to be cleaning up on the glass, yet he rarely boxes out. His body language, whether he's standing flat-footed as a rebound bounces past him or jogging up the court seemingly unaware of the general situation, suggests a lack of interest, desire, or drive. I'm not saying he hasn't turned it on. What I am describing, however, is what seems to be his general m.o.

To recap, I think the disconnect between the writers here and reasonable, critical commenters is one between what should be happening and what people observe happening on a consistent basis. I could go on, but I think the point is made. A final note in closing is something I've said before: It's not me to question people's desire, and you'd miss the point if that's what you try to take away from this. But AJ's consistent body language makes it hard for me to hold the unquestioning position.

AD said...

I left the comment field open too long and missed the intervening remarks from the likes of Owen. Apologies.

Anonymous said...

Good article. I nearly completely agree with his importance to the team. Unfortunately, I fall on the side of dislike - mainly due to the huge lack in discipline and hard work. Does he buy into all the talk? 'Cause he just aint as good as the talking heads give him credit for. He has more than just "some" room to grow Stanimal.

On a side note. I similarly appreciated Shan Foster's contributions to the Dores. But also severely disliked him because of the same reasons. The only difference between the two's poor attitudes and effort shows up on defense where Shan refused to play.

Shan hurt the team a lot - and I mean A LOT - of the time on the floor through less commonly noticed, but still fundamental errors. Thus, making himself less important to the success of the team as a whole. AJ, at least, does not hurt the team. But given his importance to our success, I want (dare say need in order to maintain my good health)to see an unprecedented amount of improvement in the off-season.

That will only come through hard work, which is why I loved Steve T's tweet after the loss "winner's are made in the off-season."

Anonymous said...

VBK is still the most polarizing person in VU hoops history. A former SEC MVP, wasn't getting it done as coach, the school wasn't letting him get the players in he needed...etc...

But we can all agree that american idol still sucks. That is unanimous!

FiveStarDore said...

If we're looking for a scapegoat for why this season was both incredible and incredibly frustrating (sometimes during the same game), I have two to offer up: Coach Stallings and Jeffery Taylor. Attitude reflects leadership and when immensely talented and deep teams with experienced players do not play well down the stretch in multiple seasons, it is indicative of something missing from the coaches.

Taylor, on the other hand, is an unbe-freaking-lievable athlete and talented shooter. He clearly can drive, pass and get to the rim with the best in the country. But he rarely opens himself up for good slashes to the basket and such. He's usually waiting for someone else to feed him the ball or get him in position to score. If he played the way he's capable of, he'd be John Wall, just taller, a better defender, a better shooter, and not an @$$hole UK player. Instead, he's about the third best offensive player on our team at best, though usually he plays like the fourth or fifth best. If Taylor took charge and was the best player on the floor (because he's the most talented) then we'd be a monster team. Instead, he's an afterthought.

AJ is a warrior who has had to carry this team at times.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous poster on March 23rd-- what exactly are your sources on AJ's 'huge lack in discipline and hard work', or his 'poor attitude'? I'm certainly not trying to be rude, but I'm honestly curious where you get your information from, because as I have to disagree. AJ is my best friend, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I'm about as close to an insider's perspective as you can get without talking to one of the players. I have never seen anyone work as hard as this team, and AJ is no exception to that statement. You would be truly amazed at how many hours this guy spends in the gym and the weight room. In fact, that's where he is right now, doing a solo shooting workout-- not because the coaches told him to, or because his teammates suggested it to him, but because that's what he does EVERY DAY when he wakes up. Hard work is something that runs through his veins, not something he makes an attempt at, and it's the same with nearly every player on this Vanderbilt team. And I truly don't understand how someone could question his discipline or his attitude. I'm sure you have your reasons, but without stating them your post just sounds ignorant and overly critical.

I completely agree with FiveStarDore's post. It's frustrating when ANY good player doesn't play to their ability, and I won't say this hasn't applied to AJ at points this season, but the same can be said about a few other players on the Commodores roster. I want to stay away from naming names, because I'm not trying to start any arguments. And honestly, I know I'm a little biased-- I hate being critical of this team (even when they might deserve it) because they're my friends. But I don't think AJ's the only player the Vanderbilt fans should be frustrated with.