The Tully Corcoran Dunk Corollary

What I am about to write might sound obvious to the point of being idiotic. I won’t blame you if that’s how you feel about it, because I have to admit that sometimes when I articulate the Tully Corcoran Dunk Corollary in my head, I feel the same thing.

But I believe this is one of those rare ideas that is both (1) totally obvious and (2) completely obscure, and I hope that by the time I am done, you will agree with me.

So here it is:

I need to start by telling you the context in which the Dunk Corollary was conceived. It was the 2008-09 basketball season, and I was covering Kansas. This was the year after the Jayhawks had won the national championship, and I’m sure you’ll recall that the KU team that won it all did a lot of dunking. I would say that right up until Mario Chalmers made that shot, dunking was that team’s most definitive characteristic. The power forward was Darrell Arthur, who never got excited about talking about anything, unless you asked him about dunking. Then, man, it was on. He loved it. At some point I think Brady McCollough even called his mom, who told Brady how excited Darrell had been the day he got his first dunk.

But KU also started Darnell Jackson on the block, and he could really dunk too. He dunked hard, and he would beat his chest after his dunks. Off the bench came a Russian with some kind of alloy where his body fat should have been named Sasha Kaun, whose best skill was post defense, but whose passion was dunking on fools.  Deep on the bench was 6-foot-11 Cole Aldrich, who sounded like an ewok when he dunked.

There were a lot of alley oops and a lot of tip dunks in 2008. This was KU’s Sweet 16 game:

That was an exceptional game as far as dunking went, but that was that team. Those guys did that sort of thing all the time, and their ability to finish plays with dunks just seemed to solve so many problems.

So the next year all those guys were gone, and in their place was a team that played decidedly below the rim. Instead of Arthur and Jackson, it was twins Marcus and Markieff Morris. One of them once said he didn’t like dunking because it took up too much energy. It was harder for that team to score around the rim. It ended up relying very much on its perimeter game, and that worked, because that team’s point guard was Sherron Collins, and he had a great year. That team won the Big 12 championship, but that team made scoring look … harder. It took more work. You couldn’t just toss the ball up in the air to anyone. Missed shots that might have been dunked home the year before got grabbed, hauled in, brought to the ground, gathered, and taken up again.

Now, the Twins would become much better athletes over the next two years, and they were more versatile offensive players than Jackson and Arthur. KU just became a different kind of team.

But in November of that 2008-09 season, I sat there during a game and thought, “You know, one of the problems with this team is that it doesn’t have anybody that can dunk.”

You need guys who can dunk, because dunking is hard, which makes things easy.

When I say “can dunk,” I don’t mean, “Can run out there in an empty gym, take a running start, and put down a dunk.” Almost everybody on every college basketball team can do that.

I am talking about guys who can make a play by dunking. Guys who can find themselves in the midst of a play that is in doubt, and then remove all that doubt by dunking.

There is a play that illustrates this perfectly. I’m sure any KU fan will remember it. It happened during KU’s game against Purdue in the NCAA Tournament this year. It was an ugly, struggle of a game. Kansas was down the whole time. There had been no flow. It seemed every KU shot had been hotly contested. Purdue had played phenomenally on defense.

The Jayhawks were down by three with just about a minute left, and KU got a little bit of a break going off a rebound. Not a great break, though. It was really a 2-on-2 break, but Tyshawn Taylor, the point guard, got behind Purdue by just a step. And Elijah Johnson put the ball in the air.

The ability to finish that play with a dunk made all the difference. Taylor could dunk it, Johnson knew Taylor could dunk it, and dunking it was the only play Purdue wouldn’t have been able to guard in that moment.

The play was in doubt, but the dunk removed the doubt.

And if you can do that, you’ve got something. If Taylor hadn’t been a dunker, there’s a good chance Kansas loses that game, which was in the second round. Instead, Taylor sealed the game with another dunk, and KU went all the way to the national championship game, where it lost to the dunkiest team in college basketball.

So what I’m saying is, it’s really helpful if your players can dunk. And that seems obvious doesn’t it? Or does it?

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