Legacies in sports are, often, dumb.
What is a legacy, anyway? We use the word to describe the memories or feelings extrapolated by fans from an athlete's career. It's a living referendum that serves little-to-no purpose, merely fueling spirited bar conversation, talk radio shows and offseason blog posts.
But this is our culture in 2016, or for the better part of ever. To embrace debate. To rank things and find a winner at every possible juncture. We seek to quantify things that are inherently unquantifiable. There can be no amorphous group of things that are just really, really good and awesome. Each group of perceived great ones must have a defined set of boundaries, and such criteria may only hold an exclusive number.
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Things haven't always been easy for Yogi Ferrell in Bloomington. Expectations were high from the get-go -- and difficult to meet. The former elementary-school phenom first came to Indiana in 2012 as a member of the five-person, highly hyped recruiting class nicknamed "The Movement." The five players, Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell, Ron Patterson, Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin, all came from the same Indiana Elite One AAU team and seemed destined to add depth to Indiana's hyped 2012-13 team.
It never played out like the initial vision. Ferrell found a role as a major contributor for the top-seeded 2013 Hoosiers, but none of his compatriots ever emerged as stars -- or at all. Patterson never enrolled at Indiana due to academic issues, eventually ending up at Syracuse and now IUPUI. Hollowell & Jurkin transferred from the program after the 2014 season. Mosquera-Perea did the same after a DUI arrest and marijuana citation in 2015.
Ferrell, along with Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean, often became lightning rods for Indiana fans' frustrations with the program's off-the-court problems, too. Along with Mosquera-Perea, Indiana saw two other players dismissed from the program in the 2015 off-season for alcohol or drug related incidents. Ferrell had been previously cited for using a fake ID at a Bloomington bar in April 2014.
Which is to say: there was a lot of context that went into Tuesday night's contest in Iowa City.
Despite early foul trouble, Ferrell went off for 20 points and five assists in arguably the biggest game of his career with a shot at his second career outright Big Ten title on the line. He distributed as a senior point guard and conference player of the year candidate does, helping three teammates reach double figures despite also being mired in foul trouble. With backcourt mate Robert Johnson sidelined with an ankle injury, he played every minute but three, figuratively putting the Hoosiers' on his back when Thomas Bryant, Troy Williams and Collin Hartman all saw extended bench minutes saddled with fouls. Such a performance wouldn't be anything new for Ferrell -- unless you've missed nearly every Indiana game this season. Yet, such a performance, maybe even in a win, wouldn't have silenced the final knock on Indiana's superstar.
Yogi's never made the big shot. He's a choker. He's never made the game-winner I'll always remember.
This is what we talk about when we talk about sporting legacies. Because, truly, legacies are quantifiable. There are stats. There are numbers. There are tangible accolades and achievements Yogi Ferrell has attained at Indiana that no other player has achieved. Objectively, he stands on the same ground in the Hoosier Pantheon as Calbert Cheaney, Steve Alford and Kent Benson, and few, if any, others. He was a start-to-finish four year star in an era that rarely provides such any longer. That, truly, is Yogi Ferrell's legacy at Indiana.
When we discuss legacies, we're so often really discussing moments. We want the "I'll always remember where I was when" moments from our stars. Those are far easier to quickly and fondly recall in those bar debates. Fairly or not, Yogi Ferrell hadn't provided Indiana fans with the moment he so deserved as validation prior to Tuesday night. He missed late game free throws in a massive home game against Michigan State in March 2014. He couldn't get a runner to fall late in a road contest against Wisconsin earlier this year. With questions about his leadership and play finally put aside, this was Ferrell's final stage -- the video-game boss standing in the way of Indiana basketball immortality.
Can he make the big shot?
And with the Big Ten title on the line, on the road, against the team that had dominated the Big Ten through the first six weeks of conference play, Yogi Ferrell did this in the game's waning moments.
There's your shot. There's your Big Ten championship. There's your moment.
Of course, Yogi Ferrell didn't need any moment at Indiana to validate his inclusion in the discussion of Indiana's greatest ever. Numbers independently support it. He's the school's all-time leader in assists. He's started more games than any player in school history. He'd been a major contributor to an outright conference champion and team that held a top ranking for a majority of a season. He'd carried the load in seasons since. He returned to play his senior season at his home state school, when he could have chased an early payday professionally. And, in such season, grabbed the wheel of a team teetering on the brink of disaster in December and navigated them to clinching a share of the Big Ten title with two games left to play.
But he made the shot anyway. And he won Indiana fans their second outright Big Ten title in four seasons anyway.
And his legacy, no matter how dumb a topic it might be, should be solidified as one of Indiana's all-time greats.