Top NCAA player likely two-man race

Kansas’ Robin­son, Ken­tucky’s Davis garner at­ten­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY DAVE SKRETTA

LAWRENCE, KAN. | Bill Self re­mem­bers hav­ing ar­gu­ments with his kids over who was bet­ter, Magic John­son or Larry Bird, and the Kansas coach al­ways went with the pride of French Lick.

The rea­son was sim­ple: The Lak­ers sim­ply oozed tal­ent, so John­son didn’t re­ceive the sole at­ten­tion of op­pos­ing de­fenses. Bird was the key to the Celtics win­ning or los­ing.

That’s why Self also goes with Thomas Robin­son, the third-ranked Jay­hawks’ star for­ward, when the de­bate turns to na­tional player of the year. An­thony Davis has had a sub­lime sea­son for top-ranked Ken­tucky, but he’s sur­rounded by a cast of char­ac­ters ca­pa­ble of 20 points a night.

With­out Robin­son, the Jay­hawks could be sit­ting on the NCAA tour­na­ment bub­ble.

“An­thony im­pacts the game in a va­ri­ety of ways, in some ways more than Thomas does, but his sup­port­ing cast is so strong,” Self said. “I re­ally be­lieve Thomas has had the best year.”

Nat­u­rally, the Wild­cats’ sup­port­ing cast is a big rea­son John Cali­pari would vote for Davis.

“At the end of the year, he’s go­ing to end up tak­ing 200 shots less than all those guys that they’re con­sid­er­ing — 200 shots less — yet prob­a­bly has as big an im­pact on any of these games,” the Ken­tucky coach said. “What he’s done de­fen­sively for us, what he’s done of­fen­sively for us — and he’s done it in a way where he’s not self­ish in any way.”

Cali­pari is right that Davis will end up tak­ing far fewer shots than most su­per­stars. He’s also right that there are other de­serv­ing can­di­dates for player of the year.

Kevin Jones has been phe­nom­e­nal for West Virginia. Doug Mcder­mott has re-es­tab­lished Creighton as a mid­ma­jor dar­ling. Dray­mond Green of Michi­gan State and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State have emerged as the two ti­tans of the Big Ten.

Still, Davis and Robin­son are lead­ing the pack for the na­tional awards.

In the Wild­cats’ sto­ried his­tory, no player has landed one of the three ma­jor in­di­vid­ual honors: the Wooden Award, Nai­smith Award or AP Player of the Year. Dan Is­sel didn’t do it. Nei­ther did Tony Delk, Ja­mal Mash­burn, John Wall or Tayshaun Prince.

Kevin Du­rant is the only fresh­man to win all three tro­phies in the same sea­son.

The Jay­hawks have had their share of stars in re­cent years: Paul Pierce, Nick Col­li­son, Mario Chalmers and Sher­ron Collins, to name a few. But they haven’t had any­body win na­tional player of the year since Danny Man­ning won the Nai­smith and Wooden awards in 1988.

No player from Kansas has won the AP award, which was first handed out in 1961.

“It’s a two-horse race, with­out ques­tion,” Self said, “and they’re both thor­ough­breds.” So how best to hand­i­cap it? Start with the stats: David is av­er­ag­ing 14.1 points and 9.8 re­bounds, and his 66.1 field goal per­cent­age is among the 10 best in the coun­try. The 6-foot-10 for­ward also has swat­ted 140 shots, and needs just 31 more blocks to break the SEC record set by Mis­sis­sippi State’s Jarvis Var­nado in 2009.

Robin­son, mean­while, is the only player in the Big 12 to av­er­age a dou­ble-dou­ble at 18 points and 11.9 re­bounds. He’s been even bet­ter against ranked teams, av­er­ag­ing 19.8 points and shoot­ing nearly 56 per­cent against a group of op­po­nents that in­cludes Duke, Bay­lor and Mis­souri. Ken­tucky, too. Many for­get that Davis and Robin­son faced each other at Madi­son Square Gar­den early in the sea­son. Davis fin­ished with 14 points, six re­bounds and seven blocks in his sec­ond col­lege game, while Robin­son turned in an 11-point, 12-re­bound per­for­mance for Kansas.

“If I had a vote, he’d be my vote for player of the year,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said Satur­day night, af­ter watch­ing Robin­son pile up 25 points and 14 re­bounds in the Jay­hawks’ 7758 vic­tory. “Just the way he’s car­ried him­self, play­ing against him — he’s ter­rific.”

Kansas guard Tyshawn Tay­lor con­sid­ers he an as­tute ob­server of the game, and he’s more than will­ing to share his opin­ion on just about any­thing.

“An­thony Davis is a beast, man, he def­i­nitely is,” Tay­lor said, “but I just don’t see too many bet­ter than T-rob. Es­pe­cially when he’s on top of his game.”

Davis has his sup­port­ers, start­ing with the guys tak­ing the floor with him.

“He’s do­ing ev­ery­thing,” Ken­tucky guard Doron Lamb said. “He’s al­ways play­ing de­fense, he’s al­ways scor­ing. He’s al­ways do­ing the right thing, re­ally. I don’t see him mak­ing no mis­takes.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

An­thony Davis (23) has a strong sup­port­ing cast at top-ranked Ken­tucky. He’s con­sid­ered one of the lead­ing con­tenders for NCAA player of the year along with Kansas’ Thomas Robin­son.

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