My name is Jake Whitacre and, I'm an associate editor here at SB Nation D.C. In addition to keeping the site updated with news and commentary on the weekends, I'll be writing a column each week called "Past Perspectives." In Past Perspectives we'll take a look at something going on in the D.C. sports scene and establish connections to players, coaches, teams and events throughout the history of D.C. sports in order to project what's next.
This Tuesday, Stephen Strasburg will begin what hopes to be a long and successful career in the pros. As he gets ready, we should remember the phenoms who have come before Strasburg and learn from the mistakes of those who didn't live up to the hype. After all, if we are going to be subjected to the misery of watching Kwame Brown try and grab a rebound or cringing as Heath Shuler throws an interception, we may as well learn from it to make sure it doesn't happen again. If the Nationals have been paying attention to the D.C. sports scene, they will know not to commit these deadly sins of prospect building.
Lesson 1: Don't saddle your prospect with lofty expectations too soon.
We can learn from: Freddy Adu, Chamique Holdsclaw
Adu and Holdsclaw both came into their respective leagues with great talent and greater expectations. A scout told Sports Illustrated that Adu was "going to be the best player in the world someday." It probably didn't help that Adu was 14 at the time that quote came out. By the time Adu signed a deal with D.C. United, he was expected to be America's answer to David Beckham. Now, at the age of 22, Adu still has time to live up to his potential, but he'll have to overcome the bad habits he picked up while trying to live up to the unrealistic expectations put on his shoulders during his teenage years.
Holdsclaw, on the other hand, was only burdened with the expectation of being the female version of Michael Jordan straight out of college. Though she played well, like her male counterparts, she was never able to live up to the Jordan standard. She was named to six WNBA All-Star teams, but she never turned the Mystics into title contenders and never became as dominant in the pros as she was at the college level.
Luckily, Strasburg is a bit of a late-bloomer, so although he's been touted as the best pitching prospect since Roger Clemens, the comparisons didn't begin until he started to obliterate opponents at the college level. Being free of such lofty expectations has allowed him to mature and develop into a person who can handle the pressure of high expectations.
Lesson 2: Don't surround your prospect with veterans who won't help your prospect develop.
We can learn from: Kwame Brown
A bad apple truly can spoil the bunch, especially when it comes to sports. It only makes sense to put the right apples around the apple that you've handed the future of the franchise to, not to mention millions of dollars. Unfortunately, Michael Jordan never got the memo when he was handed the top pick in the 2001 Draft.
While there's nothing wrong with some tough love now and then, Michael never tempered his tough teachings with compassion or support for a player making the leap from high school to the NBA. Stories like this one make it easy to understand why Brown was never able to mature into the player Jordan expected him to be:
Another training camp day found Brown getting his chance to play Jordan one-on-one and the student made a move that knocked the master off balance. "You reach, I'll teach," Brown said in a fit of bravado his teammates mocked him with all season. Jordan then showed Kwame what it takes to be Jordan responding, "You reach, and I'll knock you on your a**," Michael then belittled Brown through the rest of the one-on-one, and after beating the rookie insisted Kwame call him "Daddy" from now on.
And let's not forget, it wasn't just Jordan who contributed to Kwame's stunted development. Putting a 19- year-old in the same locker room as Christian Laettner and Charles Oakley is a recipe for unmitigated disaster.
The Nationals have done a good job avoiding this fatal mistake so far, keeping the team much younger than the squad Kwame was thrown on with the Wizards. The few older players on the team (Ivan Rodriguez, Livan Hernandez, Tyler Walker, Adam Kennedy, and Wil Nieves) are exactly the type of players you want to surround a young player with as he gets used to playing in the big leagues. But seriously, just about any veteran is an upgrade over the trifecta of Jordan, Oakley and Laettner.
Lesson 3: Make sure your prospect is as good as advertised.
We can learn from: Heath Shuler, Greg Joly, Calbert Cheaney, Jared Jeffries, Patrick Ramsey, Oleksiy Pecherov, Desmond Howard, Jarvis Hayes, Taylor Jacobs, Tom Hammonds, Rod Gardner, Kenny Green, Melvin Turpin and many, many more.
Strasburg has delivered so far, but the transition from Triple-A to the big leagues is always the most difficult move to make. This Tuesday, we'll begin to see whether or not he can rise above the mediocrity Washington fans have been exposed to for most of the past two decades. If nothing else, the way he has been able to shoulder expectations and how the Nationals have surrounded him with supporting veterans provide hope that Strasburg will not be the latest addition to a long list of disappointing D.C. prospects.