Checking In on the Last 10 College Basketball Players of the Year
As Blake Griffin accepts his College Player of the Year award, he should feel proud—He deserves it after providing countless dunks and ridiculous statistics on which writers and commentators gorged themselves.
But perhaps it should be with a sense of trepidation that Griffin heads into the NBA, considering recent College Player of the Year award recipients during the past decade haven't had it so easy.
While former Players of the Year, such as Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Bill Walton, Larry Bird, and David Robinson, went on to have terrific, Hall of Fame careers, more recent recipients have not enjoyed as much success yet.
Let's examine what the last 10 years of College Basketball's Player of The Year Award recipients to see if we can discover any future Hall of Fame inductees in our midst.
1999—Elton Brand, Duke
Perhaps the most accomplished player on our list, Brand was once performing at an MVP-caliber level with the Clippers before an injury sidelined him for an entire year.
After recovering, he signed a lucrative contract with Philadelphia, only to struggle fitting with his new team before enduring another season-ending injury.
It remains to be seen if Brand will return to his prior form, where he was one of the NBA's coveted 20 PTS/10 REB/2 BLK-per game players.
Brand has been to the NBA All-Star game twice, but many speculate he could have been voted to many more if it wasn't for his stellar competition throughout his career (Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan.)
2000—Kenyon Martin, Cincinnati
After being drafted No. 1 overall, K-Mart started his career with a bang, reaching the NBA finals in 2001-2002, and 2002-2003. Although he and the Nets lost in both finals appearances, he enjoyed some of his best seasons playing alongside future Hall of Famer Jason kidd.
Martin became known for his aggressive floor running and athletic finishing abilities. He also became a proficient, but not dominating, rebounder for several seasons.
He was voted to one All-Star game in 2004.
That year, Martin also underwent what would become the first of two micro-fracture knee surgeries. It wasn't until last season that Martin was able to fully return to form.
Currently, he is averaging 11 points and six rebounds per game with Denver.
At age 31, Martin could still have plenty of years left in the tank, but chances are, what you see is what you'll get with him.
His best seasons, where he was frequently a 20+ points-per-game and nearly 10 rebounds-per-game player, were primarily attributed to the assists he received from Jason Kidd.
Even as part of what's known as a free-flowing and offensively prolific team in Denver, Martin rarely scores more than 20 points, but he is reliable for a handful of buckets and a few boards per night.
While he was a fine player at one time, the injury bug and other factors make it unlikely that he will ever be more than a marginal NBA starter again.
2001—Shane Battier, Duke
At 30 years of age, Battier is in the prime of his physical career. Always known as a good defender, he is also a low-turnover player and a good 3-point shooter (although not prolific).
You could think of him as a Bruce Bowen, without the championships.
Battier is averaging about seven points and four rebounds per game. Although this writer is a fan, it doesn't appear like that Battier is going to "break out" any time soon.
He will most likely finish his career without ever being voted to an All-Star game.
2002—Jason Williams, Duke
Now known as Jay Williams, he was highly touted coming out of Duke. Drafted second overall behind Yao Ming, Williams never saw his NBA dreams come true.
In 2003, he crashed his motorcycle, barely escaping death and sustaining massive injuries to his pelvis, thigh, knee, and leg.
Despite a heroic comeback attempt where the Chicago Bulls, much to their credit, tried to give him a chance, he was never able to return to his prior form.
His tragic story remains a current cautionary tale to athletes of all ages.
2003—T. J. Ford, Texas
Now playing with the Indiana Pacers, Ford's career nearly ended in 2004 when he landed on the floor, sustaining a spinal cord contusion.
Ford, who was already playing with a condition known as spinal stenosis, faced the possibility of early retirement.
Luckily, after sitting out an entire season and undergoing medical treatment, Ford is playing today. His 15 points and five assists per game is respectable.
At only 26, as long as Ford's slender frame continues to hold up to the rigors of NBA life, he may yet prove to be a very good player.
2004—Jameer Nelson, Saint Joseph's
At first, some doubted the viability of Nelson as a true starting point guard in the NBA. While a good passer and great scorer in college, he was seen as too short and lacked the passing skills to be a full-time starter.
Instead, Nelson has proved his critics wrong season after season as his coaches rave about the undeniable strength of his leadership and his rugged play-making skills.
This season, Nelson is seeing career highs in many statistical categories, but more importantly he has his team rolling dominantly into the last leg of the season.
Nelson, still 26 years old, along with a young team that includes Dwight Howard, might yet see many chances to achieve playoff greatness and perhaps rack up a few championships in years to come.
2005—Andrew Bogut, Utah
The great white Australian hope hasn't actually lived up to his No. 1 overall draft pick status yet.
In his four seasons, Bogut has averaged around 12 points per game, but only 8.7 boards. Because he's still only 24, there's hope that he may yet round out his considerable skills and become more assertive as an NBA center.
But it's hard to imagine he'll ever be more than an average player at best.
2006—J. J. Redick, Duke
To be honest, this writer saw this one coming a mile away. Redick, a prolific scorer and shooter during his college days, has ridden the NBA pine like nobody's business since.
Having developed nearly no passing aptitude or defensive skills, the 6'3" shooting guard from Duke was headed for NBA disaster. Too small, too weak, too short, and too unathletic to defend NBA shooting guards.
With Redick's size and skill set, you are either a long-range shooter and maniacal defender, like Shane Battier or Bruce Bowen, or you convert to a point guard with shooting instincts like Chauncey Billups.
Unfortunately, the shoot-first, pass-second shooting guard has no ability to physically hold his own against faster, stronger, taller opposing guards.
Redick is destined to be a backup who will only be brought out to shoot a few long balls when needed.
2007—Kevin Durant, Texas
Despite the disturbing revelation during draft workouts that he is unable to bench press more than your little sister, Durant may be one of the brightest hopes on this list of achieving greatness.
Only in his second year, he's improved from 20 points per game during his rookie year to 25 during his sophomore season. Additionally, he's also gone from four rebounds per game to six this season.
Durant is part of a young and exciting team, and if the right pieces gel, he could find himself part of a great movement.
He currently represents the best chance out of the players discussed so far to carve out a true Hall of Fame career based mostly on his youth, potential, and scoring ability in a league that favors such players.
2008—Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
Hansbrough hasn't come to the NBA yet so, technically speaking, the world is still his oyster.
The good news is, Hansbrough has a great back-to-the-basket game and very good footwork. He has a strong body and good energy level, and is active under the boards.
The bad news is, other than his raw height, God gave Hansborough absolutely no other physical gifts to work with on the NBA level. He has fairly limited vertical leaping ability, and his full leap is rather slow.
He is undersized, with below average wingspan, and his ball-handling skills are not so good.
The outlook: He's a winner, you can't overlook that, and his motor is great. He's a real competitor and that will help him on defense, which is the hardest part of the rookie transition.
His post play is very developed fundamentally, and the good news is, he's coming into a league where the big men are getting smaller.
Yesterday's power forwards are today's centers.
Of course, that also means, Hansbrough will be expected to match up against players like Amare Stoudamire and Pau Gasol.
These guys may not be traditional seven-foot centers, but they certainly are more explosive and skilled than anything Hansborough is used to seeing at UNC.
2009 —Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
Griffin is expected to come out in this year's draft so, again, the world is yours, Blake. Go forth and take it.
It is this writer's opinion that Griffin is a better draft pick, and will probably be drafted higher than last year's player of the year, Hansbrough.
Griffin, while similar in size to Hansbrough, is more explosive both vertically and laterally. Griffin also seems to have fairly good ball-handling ability for a big man, and can even stroke a jumper from good distance.
Even so, he makes his bread and butter from inside the paint where he isn't afraid to bang around, and he's got the body that can handle it.
His rebounding ability will be a big plus since that's usually a trait that translates well to the NBA.
The only things I don't see yet in Griffin are a dominating shot block ability and solid all-aroud defense. He also doesn't have the high degree of polished post moves that a big man like Hansbrough has developed, but then again, very few draft prospects do.
With said, Griffin is still young and has a whole career yet to define those areas.
Not Every College Player of the Year is Meant for Greatness
While all but one of the last decade's College Player of the Year Award recipients are still actively playing, it seems unlikely that any of them will produce the types of careers that Jordan, Bird, Robinson, or Ewing did.
In fact, of the players mentioned, we can only find but a handful of All-Star appearances among them.
What does this say about the relevancy of an award that highlights the achievements of players, while so many go on to produce rather lackluster NBA careers?
Is it possible we've come to the end of the "high school" boom, which produced NBA players like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neil, Lebron James, and Amare Stoudamire, all of whom bypassed the college process and never got a chance to be College Players of the Year in the first place?
Or is there just something inherently inaccurate in the way we award the "best" college player, since it's apparent there are many other players in the NBA who are much better but who didn't get the same recognition.
Perhaps the last 10 years' worth of athletes mentioned in this list will still go on to become Hall of Fameers, proving to me and the rest of the NBA that they are just as good as we always thought they should be.
Wouldn't that be something?