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by Nick Fattori

Going into the 2013 NBA season the Philadelphia 76ers were thought to be maybe the worst team in NBA history.  The over/under for wins was 15. They had no superstar, a bunch of unproven players and didn’t have a coach for most of the offseason. But, basketball isn’t played on paper.

Before last Saturday’s game they were 5-5 and leading the Atlantic division. Even if the rest of the season is completely downhill from here, a lot of people still wonder how the Sixers even got to this point.

On draft night, they traded their only All-Star, Jrue Holiday. They followed that up by making it public they would not attempt to sign any “big” free agents and would work to only sign young and cheap players. They were “tanking for Wiggins” before it was the cool thing to do.

So, how can it be possible that they are not only exceeding expectations, but also beating teams which on paper should wipe the floor with them?

The answer is actually quite simple. This current 76ers team is playing with something that is very rare to find in the NBA—heart.

For the most part, every player currently in the NBA played for some period of time in college, or at least four years in high school.

Back in those days, players weren’t worried about endorsement deals and their own stats. Instead, they focused on winning and playing time. Players played for the name on the front of their jersey and not the one on the back.

The only way to do that was to play hard each and every game.

Today’s NBA players are an absolute joke. People have been completely turned off to the NBA because of the player’s egos, selfishness, laziness and lack of team play. They have no idea what the words hustle, pass and defense even mean. It’s only about the buckets and Benjamins.

Teams like Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams are taught to play hard for all 40 minutes in college. One bad play or lack of hustle results in you getting benched. These kids wouldn’t dare to play lackadaisical under coaches like Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino and Jay Wright. Something changes though once they are drafted and are playing for dough instead of their fellow students. Plain and simple it just isn’t as fun to watch an NBA game compared to a college game featuring a couple of diaper dandies. There is always the exception and in this case it is the Sixers.

The current starting lineup is comprised of Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, James Anderson and rookie Michael Carter-Williams from Syracuse.

All of them are former first-round picks, but have either underperformed or have yet to truly prove themselves as “go-to guys.” This has probably been one of the biggest motivators of the team so far this season. They have completely proved every pundit and fan completely wrong by outplaying every one of their opponents.

The 2013-2014 76ers are actually a lot like the 2004-2005 Villanova basketball team. ’Nova was a team chock full of talent, but had yet to get over the hump and back into the NCAA Tournament. People were giving up on the spectacular recruiting class of Curtis Sumpter, Randy Foye, Allan Ray and All-American Jason Fraser. They were considered complete busts based off of their first two years.

Then, came the magical season which put the Main Line back on the map. The team was known for their hustle, intense defense and tremendous shooting ability. They, like the Sixers, were an afterthought before the season, but by the end of they regular season were seen as one of the hottest teams in the country.

The 76ers have been able to implement the same type of play like they had when they were superstars in college. They have played more freely and each player has been given an opportunity to prove he can be the go-to guy. Because of this, each one of the Sixers’ starters has been able to overcome one major flaw in their game, which has taken them to the next level.

Evan Turner has struggled to shoot the ball during his NBA career, but is shooting nearly 50 percent on the season, up eight percent from last year. James Anderson struggled for playing time after being named an All-American at Oklahoma St., however he has made the most of his opportunities in Philly and scored a career high 36 just last week.

Since being drafted Spencer Hawes has not been considered a true NBA center. This season he has been given a chance to show off his unconventional play and it has led to career highs in points, rebounds, blocks and assists.

Thaddeus Young has always been a consistent role player who has played hard. He is now looked to as a team leader and has done a tremendous job helping and guiding the young players.

Finally, is Michael Carter-Williams who was seen as a project after being drafted this summer. He has gone above and beyond every expectation and averages 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds a game.

The rest of the season will not be determined by if they continue to keep up their unbelievable play as individuals, but if they are able to continue their success as a team.

Their talent level is well below most teams in the NBA, but as previously mentioned it’s not just about talent. It’s about getting a loose ball on the floor, having guards crashing the boards and not making stupid and careless plays.

The Sixers may in fact fall apart and end up at the bottom of the standings; however it won’t be because of the way they played. This team has heart.They play like they’re still hungry for something and not like they’re playing solely for a paycheck.

The Sixers are exciting and fun to watch and who knows how good this team will be when they add a couple of stars with their core of young players.

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