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December 3, 2003 Columns No Comments

Pitching the Wooden Whoops Team

by Joaquin Mesa

Four teams in the Hoopville top ten lost this last week, leaving the number one spot up for grabs, and Kansas took it ready and willing. Kansas’ jump from number No. 5 to number No. 1 is impressive, and they are worthy of it after defeating Michigan State. They have done it with solid play at point by Aaron Miles, and two tenacious scorers in Simien and Langford. After three games, I would never have thought that Langford would be shooting 37% from the arc, but I guess he has found his range to go with his incredible touch. I mean, he is a guard that has shot over 50% for his career from the field….and that takes into account the fact that he has never shot over 30% from the arc.

I wouldn’t be too quick to give the Wooden Award to him quite yet. Come to think about it, I’ve been thinking about this award for a while. Now that four top teams have lost, should I start considering the TYPE and not the HYPE? A lot of people have been coming up to me saying ‘Okafor this, Okafor that’, and I usually reply, “Who are the two leading scorers on UConn?” Then there are the few people who I’ve noticed with signs on the street saying ‘Warrick – The Next No. 2’ (I assume that would be behind the third leading scorer on UConn). Honestly, I’ve seen them. Usually, I don’t pay much attention because of my West Coast Bias (I’m trying to balance the scales), but this one guy asked for change so that he could buy an Orangeman jersey, and I had to mention the fact that they lost their first game of the year. I don’t have to tell you how quickly I had to run to keep from receiving a good beating. I hate New York.

My point you ask? Well, the jury is still out for the mid-season top 30 players eligible for the John R. Wooden award, and there were a few players who weren’t on the Preseason list that I’d like to make pitches for, as well as give a little praise.

First, Jarrett Jack of Georgia tech has impressed me to the point where I would say that he would be my first pick to build a college team around. Nevermind the fact that he has already broken a record held by Tracy McGrady (56 points as a Junior at McGrady’s Mt. Zion Christian Academy), and don’t think about the fact that he dished out 185 assists last year as a freshman (6.6 average); lets think about how this Sophomore, after five games, is averaging 58% from the field, 47% from the arc, 86% from the line, 6.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 3.2 steals and 14.6 points. He leads his team in minutes, free-throw percentage, rebounds, assists and steals. His 8.8 assists per game average is fourth in the nation, soon to be third after Cedric Bozeman of UCLA plays his second game. He spearheaded the Yellow Jacket defense against UConn, taking 3 steals and 6 rebounds home that night. What is amazing about this guy is that as a scoring guard, he is only taking 9 shots a game, and making them all count, shooting better than 50%. He has a 1 to 1 steal to turnover ratio, something that I take into much higher account then assist to turnover ratio (cause if you lose it, you better get it back). Only Jameer Nelson and Cedric Bozeman can claim the same as national top ten assist men.

Now, after all of this, if you still think that he isn’t a Wooden Award worthy player, then take this into account…his team is 5-0. Then, think about how the next seven games are against teams with a combined record of 11-12, with Saint Louis and Marist leading that squad with undefeated records. Only one game is going to be on the road, against Ohio St., and Saint Louis is going to be coming in beat up after a deadly game against Arizona. This schedule will allow Jack to pile up some stats to better his cause. Jarrett was not considered for the pre-season Wooden Award list. He is officially my first ‘whoops’.

I do understand that some of you would say that Jameer Nelson of St. Joseph’s (PA) is more qualified then Jack…but Jack has a better line across the board (Nelson has a definite advantage in scoring, but worse percentages, and they are pretty much even in assists and rebounds). He also took out Texas Tech and my pre-season favorite for the award, Andre Emmett. That alone has convinced me, never mind the whole UConn thing.

I also must recognize the outstanding seasons so far put in by Ike Diogu of Arizona State and Jaime Lloreda of LSU, not to mention the duo of Jason Maxiell, a pre-season Wooden Award candidate, and a certain senior guard who is finally coming into his own, Tony Bobbitt. So far, Bobbitt has been characterized as streaky, and I hate to say otherwise so early in the season, but being a senior does something to you; whether it is the recognition that they must be a leader or understanding their role within an offense, allowing themselves more freedom and better shots, Bobbitt seems to be experiencing these minutiae. He is again atop the leader board in steals, but what impresses me most is his 57% from the field. If he can keep that up, perhaps the Bearcats can challenge this year for a title, something I haven’t heard myself say in a while, at least not seriously. Diogu, like Jack, is a sophomore. The difference is that Diogu carries his team, something he did even as a freshman last year. Diogu has gotten a lot of praise so far in his college career, and he was indeed a pre-season Wooden Award candidate, but I got to give love to the Pac-10 whenever I can get a chance. West-side!!!! Lloreda has come out of nowhere. Like Bobbitt, he is a JuCo transfer, but unlike Bobbitt, was named Junior College Player of the Year. Last season, he averaged 12 points per game and 9 rebounds per game respectively, but as the top returning scorer and eager to prove something his senior year, Lloreda has taken the reigns at LSU. In three games he is averaging 26.3 points/game and 12.7 rebounds/game. He also is putting in 1.7 blocks/game and 1 steal/game. The most amazing thing, he is doing it while shooting 73.7% from the field, and LSU is undefeated as a result.

Pre-season ‘whoops’
(in order of who would win the award today if there was an award for best player not on the Wooden Award pre-season list):
Jarrett Jack (Georgia Tech)
Jaime Lloreda (LSU)
Tony Bobbitt (Cincinnati)
Jonathon Modica (Arkansas)

Modica is another sophomore who is impressing people with his early play. He is shooting over 70% and averaging 22.7 points/game. The problem is that he hasn’t played anyone of consequence.

Pre-season ‘whoops’ on my bubble:
Justin Reed (Mississippi)
Bryant Matthews (Virginia Tech)
Kevin Martin (Western Carolina)
Kenneth Lowe (Purdue)

I put Kenneth on here simply because they beat Duke and Seton Hall. He is averaging 18 points/game, but doing little else. I felt like I had to round out the list with four people. Kevin Martin’s team is 1-2, but anyone averaging 30 points/game at any point during the season needs a little bit of recognition. Justin Reed is dominant, but his team lost to Arkansas State so he is on my bubble. Matthews is putting up similar big man numbers to Reed, and I never argue with big men.

Other Pre-season favorites doing well:
Torin Francis (Norte Dame)
Gerald Fitch (Kentucky)
Ricky Paulding (Missouri)
Channing Frye (Arizona)
Luke Jackson (Oregon)

Nothing new to say about these names, they’ve done it all.

Player who I think should have been on the Wooden Award pre-season roster but was left out because of all the controversy surrounding the school he attends:

Dijon Thompson

Just because your school fires and hires a head coach, loses a top performer to academic ineligibility, then loses another top player for the first few games of the season for the same reason, doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve credit where credit is due, especially since the award is given by a coach whose career was made legendary at the school you currently attend. Dijon is the real deal, and he was on my pre-season All-American team because of it. His first game was good, and new coach Ben Howland likes this guy a lot, which should give Wooden reason to include him on the mid-season list.

So, take that Jameer Nelson, Emeka Okafur, J.J. Reddick, Matt Walsh and Dee Brown. Four top teams lose, and now the country has to take a look at the players that are making their less noteworthy teams win. Tee Trotter will be thanking you when his Maryland Eastern Shore team beats Illinois and his name gets mentioned for the award….okay, okay, that took it a little too far, but anything is possible.

Pay attention to the following games to see if pre-season ‘whoops’ can make their points known:

Dec.6 – Arkansas v Illinois
Dec.6 – UCLA v Kentucky
Dec.11 – Purdue v Oklahoma
Dec.16 – LSU v Utah
Dec.20 – Arkansas v Oklahoma State
Dec.20 – UCLA v Michigan State
Dec.22 – Arkansas v Western Carolina (Modica v Martin)

Jan.4 – UCLA v Oregon
Jan.6 – LSU v Arkansas (Lloreda v Modica I)
Jan.6 – Virginia Tech v Pittsburg
Jan.10 – Purdue v Illinois
Jan.11 – Georgia Tech v North Carolina
Jan.14 – Cincinnati v Marquette
Jan.14 – Purdue v Wisconsin
Jan.17 – Arkansas v Mississippi (Modica v Reed I)
Jan.17 – UCLA v Arizona
Jan.20 – Georgia Tech v Wake Forest
Jan.20 – Virginia Tech v Norte Dame
Jan.21 – Cincinnati v Louisville
Jan.21 – Georgia Tech v N.C. State
Jan.21 – LSU v Mississippi (Lloreda v Reed I)
Jan.22 – UCLA v Stanford
Jan.25 – Purdue v Michigan State
Jan.27 – Purdue v Indiana
Jan.28 – Mississippi v Kentucky
Jan.28 – Virginia Tech v Connecticut
Jan.31 – Georgia Tech v Duke
Jan.31 – Virginia Tech v Syracuse

Feb.7 – LSU v Arkansas (Lloreda v Modica II)
Feb.10 – Georgia Tech v North Carolina
Feb.14 – LSU v Florida
Feb.14 – Purdue v Indiana
Feb.14 – UCLA v Arizona
Feb.15 – Cincinnati v Wake Forest
Feb.17 – Purdue v Michigan State
Feb.18 – Arkansas v Kentucky
Feb.21 – Cincinnati v Louisville
Feb.21 – Mississippi v Florida
Feb.21 – UCLA v Stanford
Feb.21 – UCLA v Norte Dame
Feb.22 – Georgia Tech v Wake Forest
Feb.25 – Georgia Tech v N.C. State
Feb.28 – Arkansas v Florida
Feb.29 – LSU v Kentucky’
Feb.29 – Purdue v Wisconsin

Mar.3 – Georgia Tech v Duke
Mar.3 – Purdue v Illinois
Mar.3 – LSU v Mississippi (Lloreda v Reed II)
Mar.6 – Arkansas v Mississippi (Modica v Reed II)
Mar.6 – UCLA v Oregon


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