Tuesday, February 24, 2009

T-Will: The Case for Big East Player of the Year

Excuse me, Digger Phelps and your occupants on the Luke Harangody bandwagon, but let’s not already assume a repeat is in order.

Don’t cast your vote for your boy Hasheem Thabeet just yet, Coach Calhoun and Coach Boeheim.

No, Andy Katz – contrary to popular belief, this isn’t just a two-man race. (And how quickly you forget Dejuan Blair’s 9-point outing at Freedom Hall only a few weeks ago.)

And let’s not all simply succumb to Seth Davis’ observation that Jerel McNeal is the “best” of his breed in the Big East.

Terrence Williams needs to be in the conversation as Big East Player of the Year. His versatility, his composure, the consistency of his play, and the level of his importance and value to his team render him so.

Yes, I appreciate I may be biased. I know my love for all things T-Will is well documented, that I spearheaded a grassroots campaign to see him voted Senior CLASS Player of the Year. (Polls are still open, by the way.)

But hear me out on this: T-Will must be in the conversation.

The 6-6, 220 pound senior can play like a point guard. You and I know that from watching him in open court. You and I know that from watching him bounce the rock at the top of the key, then suddenly and abruptly thread the needle to find Samardo Samuels or Earl Clark in the paint. Then you and I wonder: “How did he even see that?”

But some folks don’t have the luxury of observing T-Will’s phenomenal court vision and Peyton Manning-type ability to place the ball precisely where it needs to be on a weekly basis. Those folks need only check out the numbers.

He’s fifth in the Big East in assists at 4.8 per game. He’s behind some familiar names: Levance Fields, Johnny Flynn, Dominic James, and Troy Jackson. These gentlemen are the state of the art. Cream of the crop. Top of their field. The only thing that separates T-Will from these folks is that their “field” is the point guard position – their function is to distribute the rock. 6-6, 220 pound forwards aren’t bred for that kind of work. But T-Will does it, and does it with consistency – the 6-6, 220 pound forward has dished out 5 plus dimes in 14 games this season with an average 2.06 assist-to-turnover ratio. In a word: remarkable.

But T-Will can also play like a big man, averaging 8.4 boards per game. You and I watch him sky up in and through a crowd of trees to come down with the basketball. You and I watch him use his quickness to chase down hard rebounds and turn those rebounds into immediate transition offense. And everybody should recognize that he’s 9th in the conference in that category.

When you’re Hasheem Thabeet (7-3, 10.5 rpg) or DePaul’s Mac Koshwal (6-10, 9.8 rpg), rebounding is a given. You live under the basket. You’re taller than your competition. You’re expected to come down with missed shots. When you’re a 6-6 wingman, when your team expects you to run the offense, when you’re called upon to defend and challenge your opponents’ three point shots, it’s a
little different. Rebounding isn’t a given. It’s a chore. It requires an aggressive, “want-to” attitude. It takes pride to declare that that ball coming off the iron is yours, the 7-3, 6-10 trees already standing under the basket ready for it notwithstanding. Rebounding is a hustle stat. At 6-6, 8.4 rebounds per game speaks volumes of your attitude and commitment to hustle.

But let’s be honest. We aren’t big on passing and hustle. We live in a basketball age where people want to see points. The more the score board flickers the more entertained we are. Which may have something to do with Harangody (Big East-leading 24.2 ppg) taking BE Player of the Year honors last year and figuring to be a frontrunner this year. And T-Will has had his games of 2 (Morehead State), 3 (St. John’s) and 4 (Ohio, South Florida). Against DePaul he didn’t even take a shot.

But since coming off that wrist injury, as the Cards enter the homestretch (and when it was very, very evident at Notre Dame that offense was desperately needed if this team was to make a run at anything this post-season) T-Will’s averaging almost 16 points per game and has hit 52% of his shots. Harangody is a phenomenal scorer who can drop jumpers from anywhere on the court and is a forceful presence inside the paint, which is why he averages 18 shots per game. To put things in perspective, T-Will only averages 11 field goal attempts per game. While you and I know and recognize T-Will as a scoring threat every time he touches the ball, he knows that he can make his team more dangerous by crisp execution and efficient ball movement. Even so, his 12.5 points per game puts him in the top 30 in the Big East.

That’s 12.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. He’s the only player in the country averaging 12, 8 and 4. And that, Mr. Calhoun, Mr. Boeheim, Mr. Katz, and Mr. Davis, puts Terrence Williams in a class all by himself.

Which is why the conversation for Big East Player of the Year should – and indeed does – include T-Will.

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