If you've paid any attention to the MAAC this year, you'd know that Fairfield's Derek Needham has assembled an extraordinary freshman campaign.
He's not going to win MAAC Player of the Year—although he'll likely finish in the top five—but there's no doubt that he is the MAAC's Rookie of the Year.
An adept scorer, Needham has led Fairfield through its injury woes to a top-four finish. He's quick with and without the ball, excels off the dribble and the pick and roll, and can score from anywhere on the floor.
Sometimes Needham loses control and shows poor judgment. As a result, his turnover average of 3.9 per game is through the roof. However, he is a freshman who was thrust into a starting role. If Ed Cooley deserves the reputation people around the league have given him, Needham's decision making should improve.
The freshman floor general is averaging 16.1 points, 5.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game. He has scored in double figures in 25 of 26 games and has posted 20 or more points seven times.
If that wasn't impressive enough, he's taken home the MAAC Rookie of the Week honor nine times in 14 weeks.
Pretty much no other MAAC rookie stands a chance of topping Needham for the conference's postseason award. However, there is a group of MAAC freshmen who have reassured MAAC followers that the league's talent won't disappear with the graduation of this year's extremely talented senior class.
The promising freshmen come from a select group of schools, but there are others—think Siena's O.D. Anosike and Niagara's Scooter Gillette—who are certain to garner more attention as they receive more playing time.
Every time Needham wasn't voted the MAAC Rookie of the Week, an Iona Gael received the honor.
Rashard McGill, who is averaging 4.2 points and 3 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game, took the honor twice, while 6'8" Mike McFadden, averaging 5.1 points per game, received it once.
Sharpshooting Kyle Smyth was voted the league's top rookie of the week twice; he split the award once with Loyola's Bobby Olson. Deadly from beyond the arc, Iona's freshman is shooting 41.6 percent from long range and averaging 8.3 points in 25.1 minutes per game.
Olson proved he was worthy of the hype surrounding his recruitment to Loyola when Jamal Barney temporarily left the team for personal reasons. The 6'4" shooting guard averaged 10.7 points in six games without Barney and is averaging 6.3 points on the season.
Olson is not yet at the point where he can consistently create for himself, but he is a sharpshooter with tremendous potential.
Saint Peter's would likely not be in fourth place without the solid production from freshman Darius Conley, who is averaging 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. At 6'7", Conley played his best game against Siena's loaded frontcourt, scoring 14 points and grabbing 13 boards.
Although Marist has suffered through a dreadful season, coach Chuck Martin has reason to believe his situation could improve as more recruits arrive to support his freshman class.
Marist's Devin Price, Candon Rusin, and Rob Johnson all showed potential through a rough year.
Photo from fairfieldstags.com
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