It’s the WOODEN WATCH!
I’m not referring to the new Rolex wrist-apparel that smells of rich mahogany sported by the likes of Kanye West, I’m talking about the College Basketball John Wooden Player of the Year Award.
With March Madness clearly in our sight, every game, every minute moving forward is critical as teams across the nation push and shove for a place at the big table.
But who’s the big piece of chicken this year? Who’s the gravy? Who’s the cherry on top of the desert? (sorry I missed lunch today)
Who’s the front-runner for National Player of the Year?
What player this season will etch his name in stone next to the greats of yester-year college basketball excellence like Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, David Robinson and his “Airness” when he was still wearing Carolina Blue converse, Michael Jordan.
- Jahlil Okafor – Duke
Strengths: Mr. Okafor is a full, distinguished lumberjack-beard among pencil-thin mustaches inside the paint this season for Coach K’s Blue Devils. He’s as polished a big man offensively at the age of 19 as anyone in college since Tim Duncan was at Wake Forest. Okafor has an orchestra-arrangement of moves in the post, to go with a feathery touch, great footwork and an NBA-ready body. On paper, he fits the mold of a dominant big man, stats don’t lie: 18 ppg, 9.1 rpg and 1.4 apg are nothing to scoff at.
He passes well out of the post, sees the double team quickly (he gets doubled more than an IN-N-OUT Burger order) and never seems to rush anything, he’s always under control.
Weaknesses: Jahlil isn’t an incredible athlete when speaking in terms of the NBA. His size and decent footwork makes up for it at the college level, but in the NBA he’ll be going up against players like DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins ( I really like saying Boogie), Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Deandre Jordan, all of whom are either bigger or stronger or BOTH compared to Jahlil. He needs to get better defensively and physically stronger, which could be said for about 99% of players that come out of college early.
Okafor will need to learn quickly how to affect a game at the defensive end too, otherwise he’ll see a lot of this in the league:
Overall, Jahlil Okafor is the best player in the country and deserves all the player of the year honors that come with that title. He’s as good a college player as you’re going to see in this one-and-done era of hoops which I’ve grown to lement greatly, seriously can we just fix the one-and-done thing already?
****RANT ALERT: If the player wants to go to the NBA out of high school then let him make that mistake (for every Lebron James or Kobe Bryant there’s 10 Lenny Cooke’s or DeAngelo Collins’s, who??? Exactly.) otherwise the player must stay a mandatory two years in college, it’ll make the college game better, the pro game better, everyone’s happy. Oh, and the NCAA should start paying athletes too while we’re at it.
- Frank Kaminsky – Wisconsin
Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky is a close second for player of the year behind Okafor, I believe “splitting hairs” is the metaphor I would use for evaluating between Okafor and ”The Tank” because they are THAT close. For the record, I have no idea if anyone calls him “The Tank” but I think it totally fits, so I’m going with it.
Strengths: Kaminsky is a silky smooth 7-footer who can step out and hit the 3-pointer with ease, he can put the ball on the floor and beat taller/slower defenders to the rim, he can take smaller defenders down to the block and abuse them like a fat kid takes out a cookie cake, he’s a matchup nightmare for all college coaches. His stats are right in line with Okafor’s at, 17.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, but with the ability to step out and go all Dirk Nowitzki on people, Kaminsky is probably tougher to strategize for.
Weaknesses: Kaminsky lacks great athleticism, but makes up for it with size and the ability to stretch defenses out. His lateral movement is sub-par and there is definitely a question about his ability to play-make and create for himself in a wide-open, faster paced offensive setting at the next level. He most likely will strive in a more structured offense in the NBA, similar to the way Pau Gasol has worked in the past for the Lakers and now the Bulls. If I were Kaminsky, I’d become real good friends with Dirk Nowitzki before he’s drafted into the NBA, his game mirrors what Dirk looked like early in his career. “The Tank” will need to improve his foot speed, his overall strength and his ability to create shots for himself to be a good pro.
- Jerian Grant – Notre Dame
Jerian Grant has been my favorite player to watch this season in the NCAA, and not just because I get to see crowd-shot cameos of his father, Harvey Grant and his uncle, Horace Grant………the greatest goggled twin brother duo since Ace & Gary.
Strengths: Jerian Grant is a huge, athletic combo-guard averaging 16.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, and 6.3 apg for the Fighting Irish. He’s single-handedly offered two of my favorite moments in college basketball the last two seasons. The DUNK against Georgia Tech this season that made me question the theory of gravity:
and then there was the time last season when he scored 12 points in 28 seconds to take a game to overtime and eventually beat Lousiville:
Grant has a pro body, an athletic build and as you can see has a bloodline “clutch” gene that just can’t be taught.
Weaknesses: Is he a PG or a SG in the NBA? Is he quick enough to guard the Point Guards in the league, is he physical enough to guard the bigger Shooting Guards? On paper he seems to be the total package for the next level, I could see him as a Victor Oladipo type of player in the NBA, but I could also see him as a guy who doesn’t quite fit a NBA position or style, I hope he ends up in the right situation where he can be an immediate impact guard for the right team/system (not Denver, Sacramento, Philadelphia, New York, Minnesota or Detroit).
- D’Angelo Russell – Ohio State
D’Angelo Russell has taken the country by storm the last month, averaging 20 ppg, 7.8 apg, 8.8 rpg over the last five games, not to mention when he pulled an Ice Cube against Rutgers, messing around and getting a triple-double (23 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds). If you don’t know about D’Angelo, NOW YOU KNOW!
Strengths: He’s HUGE! D’Angelo Russell (I want to make an R&B music D’Angelo joke so bad) 6’5” Freshman combo-guard that has put Ohio State on his back like a ninja turtle with nunchucks. He’s highly skilled offensively, creative and doesn’t seem to shy away from the big moment. He’s also reinvented the “Pistol” Pete spinning-cue-ball-english bounce pass:
Then he did it again against Northwestern:
D-Russ can do it all, he creates for himself and others offensively, he can take it to the rim and finish, defend bigger AND smaller guards, and he shoots it very well (48% fg and 45% threes).
Weaknesses: The only real weakness in his game is that he is a bit unproven as a true Point Guard. Can he handle the pressure of quicker, aggressive guards in March when it really counts?
For now though, get your popcorn ready for tourney-time, cause this kid is the real deal.
- Delon Wright – Utah
I rounded out my top 5 list with a bit of a long-shot here. If you don’t know Delon Wright, you’re about to be introduced to the best thing to come out of Utah since the freeway that leads to Las Vegas.
Strengths: Delon is a great athlete on both ends of the floor, he fills passing lanes, he runs the floor, he can post up well for a guard, he shoots it very well from inside the arc and gets to the rim aggressively.
His stats are impressive, 14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 5.6 rpg for a #11 ranked Utah Utes team that is poised to make a serious run in the tournament this season. Since the state of Utah doesn’t allow the internet, television or cheerleader’s midriffs, most people haven’t seen what Delon can do……until now:
Weaknesses: He doesn’t shoot the three-ball well consistently, 25% for his career isn’t going to cut it at the next level. He’s a streaky shooter at best, he’ll have to extend that range for the NBA. In addition, he tends to occasionally be out of control in the open floor, he’ll need to learn to pick and choose his moments a little better.
So there’s your official Wooden Watch list, some notables left off the list are Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky (his numbers aren’t good enough), Ryan Boatright of UCONN (no unranked team has ever had a Wooden Award winner), Kevin Pangos of Gonzaga (like Cauley-Stein, the numbers aren’t there), Tyus Jones of Duke (numbers aren’t there), and Tyler Haws of BYU (unranked school, but his numbers are huge).
Second-Christmas is just around the corner ya bunch of degenerate, hoops junkies. It’s almost March Madness and basketball-Saint Nick has loaded his bag with game-winners, high-flying dunks, overachieving mid-major schools and maybe if we’ve been REALLY good this year, John Calipari will cry.
written by Casey S. Gutting