Falling out of love: Grantland details Flynn’s unraveling
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • August 16, 2013 @ 3:57pm
Nichols School’s Christian Laettner set a high standard for Western New York-bred basketball players.
He was outstanding at Duke, sinking one of the most memorable buzzer-beaters in sports history, then played 13 NBA seasons before retiring in 2005. He represented his country at the 1992 Olympics, playing on the “Dream Team” with athletes so familiar that you probably know them by one name: Jordan, Pippen, Ewing, Magic, Charles, Bird, Stockton and Malone.
Those are outrageous accomplishments for an Angola, NY, native.
Back in 2006—when then-Niagara Gazette sports reporter Nate Beutel penned this feature on a lauded Niagara Falls High School senior—Jonny Flynn (pictured middle in header) was sailing down a Laettner-like path.
He’d played varsity since ninth grade, captured a state championship and accepted a scholarship to Syracuse University—all before December of his senior year.
(As an aside, the ninth-grade Flynn was a marvel—one of those part-time contributors that you knew was going to be a star once he matured physically and fundamentally. His first step was so quick that perimeter defenders—some above-average high school athletes themselves—were left frozen in their tracks, and only the hype surrounding Paul Harris—another high-major D1 recruit to the Orange—temporarily delayed Flynn’s national recognition).
Though I was in college at the time, I made the two-hour trip on a few occasions to watch Flynn in his senior season, curious how a likely (and eventual) McDonald’s All-American would handle the pressure without sidekick Harris, who saw regular minutes for Jim Boeheim.
What was supposed to be Flynn’s storybook season—perhaps with a dreamed-of trouncing of Mount Vernon in the state final—ended abruptly with a sectional final loss to underdog Sweet Home High School—a puzzling evening of frustration, forced shots and bad body language, as I recall—but that didn’t stop Flynn from capturing New York State’s prestigious honor of Mr. Basketball.
In some ways, Beutel’s Gazette article foreshadowed Wednesday’s Grantland feature article by Jonathan Abrams, which delves into why Jonny Flynn went from leaving college two years early to be taken sixth overall in the 2009 NBA Draft.
Beutel’s characterization of Flynn as someone who has a tough time shouldering pressure and the burden of expectations segues smoothly to Abrams’ mentions of Flynn’s stubbornness with the Wolves, the guard’s selfishness in forcing shots and lowering his head on pick-n-rolls.
Pulling quotes from names that are very memorable in the WNY basketball community—Flynn’s AAU coach Sal Constantino, NFHS basketball coach Dan Bazzani, former Falls teammate Demondi Johnson, a speedy little point guard himself, and Jake Presutti, one of the best players ever to emerge from Allegany County—Abrams tells the tale in bittersweet fashion, explaining how Flynn’s masterpiece against Connecticut, Minnesota GM David Kahn’s bizarre draft strategy, Flynn’s own attitude problems, reluctance to defend and unfortunate injury derailed a promising career.
While the Grantland article hones in on factors outside of Flynn’s control—administrative incompetence, the lack of precedent of torn hip labrum and the mystique of Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio—the saddest part of the story, to me at least, is that these decisions have ruined the pleasure and freedom that basketball provided Flynn.
Though he insists his hip is fully healthy, Flynn has to prove that, not only have his pre-injury acceleration and fluidity returned, but also his love of the game.
He’s 24 years old, and his story hasn’t been fully written yet. The odds are against him—he’s wasting away at the end of NBA Summer League benches now after a decent stint in Australia—but we’re pulling for Flynn, who’s remembered as a respectful, humble and personable star athlete from Western New York.