Great basketball players put the game on a string and control it. They see things others don't. They sucker opponents into making moves so they can counter. They relish every challenge, cherish every possession. They make teammates believe they are better than the guys they're playing against.
There was one great basketball player Wednesday night on James Naismith Court, and the path to beating him and his team was not the one taken by Kansas University, Sports Illustrated's choice as the No. 1 team in the nation.
The correct path did not involve missing foul shots and layups and turning the ball over 14 times in the first half, nor grabbing a rebound and executing a wrap-around dribble when an outlet pass would suffice.
Caleb Green, a 6-foot-8 senior forward from Tulsa, would not settle for losing to a team that did not come prepared to hit him and his mates with its best shot, and he carried Oral Roberts University to a 78-71 upset victory over KU at Allen Fieldhouse.
Setting up on the wide post, Green seemingly had about six sets of eyeballs, so quickly did he find the open man. Often, it was sophomore Marchello Vealy, who made his first seven three-point shots, including five in a first-half span of 31â2 minutes. He came into the night 1-for-13 for his career.
Green also hit pull-back jumpers on the right baseline, lasered passes into the lane, crashed the offensive boards and stepped into passing lanes for steals. His statistical line (20 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and five steals in 39 minutes) only hinted at how he orchestrated the game. His ever-present smile surely didn't hurt his team's mind-set in a building that can intimidate visitors.
"He was by far the best player in the game," KU coach Bill Self said. "We're talking about (Julian) Wright and (Brandon) Rush and (Mario) Chalmers and these guys. Caleb Green was the best player in the game. Any NBA scout will tell you he was the best player in the game."
Any time a big man passes the way Green did, it's difficult not to think back to one of college basketball's all-time greats, the biggest man on the KU bench, Danny Manning.
The strategy was to trap Green. He exploited that approach with smart passes.
"Our trap was soft," Self said. "Our guards weren't alert at all. He's a hard guard. He's got one of those old-school games. He doesn't post on the block. He posts at 10 (feet), and you can't front a guy at 10, so that makes it hard. And he's got such good vision, it's like guarding Danny after he catches a ball in practice because he can find guys. I thought he was terrific."
And Self's Jayhawks were anything but that. When they fell behind, they lost belief in a patient approach and wanted to make the great play.
"It was like we were down three, swinging for the fences and there was nobody on base," Self said. "We needed base-runners."
Oral Roberts expected a miracle, and Green made it happen.
Meanwhile, KU's players now know they are only as good as the scoreboard, not the forecasts.
"This team needs to climb a mountain," Self said. "It can't start there. Not mature enough. Not hungry and tough enough yet. : It will be more of a climb since we got our butt kicked today."
Caleb Green's foot must be mighty sore.