He came out of Iowa State a relative nobody. He was a transfer from a not-so-great big 12 team, and there was some controversy brewing over his relationship with his coach. Although he was an electrifying athlete, his jumper and overall game needed a lot of work.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim saw something in Wes Johnson he had not seen in many other transfer recruits though.
And now Johnson, in his first year playing for the Syracuse Orange, and one of the biggest reasons it has excelled so much this year, is the Big East Conference Player of the Year.
What a long strange trip it must have been for him.
He sat out all of last year due to the NCAA rules on transferring and having to sit out a year and all that gobbledygook it imposes on players.
Honestly, what’s the point? The NCAA tries to save face a little too much sometimes. The NCAA always seems to want to be more punitive than helping when it comes to the athletes it represents. Surely it would never treat a sponsor with such indigence.
Perhaps, though, that year off benefited him. He wasn’t on the spotlight last year until Boeheim began gushing over him much later in the year. Even then, some people still had doubts.
Boeheim assured everybody Wes was going to be a star, and it was more than enough assurance for Paul Harris to leave a year early.
How Ironic is it, then, that Wes Johnson celebrated his faux senior night at the Carrier Dome playing the same position Paul Harris would be playing this year as a true senior.
Wes got the benefit of being able to practice with the team last year, and there’s no doubt that even just practicing with a great point guard like Jonny Flynn is enough to elevate anybody’s game.
He also got the benefit of improving the aspects of his game he needed to at his own pace. There were no games for Wes to worry about last year; he could just stay focused on practicing his hardest and getting better each and every day.
This year, he showed the fans, the pundits, and the whole nation watching just how much that practice benefited him.
His jumper had become silky smooth, his mid-range game was something to envy in a sport where that game rarely exists anymore, and his dazzling dunks demanded him attention as a dominating player.
He’s been huge in the 2-3 zone all year as well, as his length and athleticism have allowed for some primetime blocks and to lead the team in rebounding.
As it has been customary for all Syracuse All-stars recently, he was constantly flashing a brilliant smile.
Supremely confident, loving every moment of the game, but never letting his ego take over.
If there’s a more unselfish superstar in College Basketball…well, there’s not. There’s just no argument there. That’s a sentiment that has been echoed numerous times this year by Syracuse’s Big East Coach of the Year Jim Boeheim.
However, despite all the great things Wes had done in elevating The Orange this year, it still came as a pretty big shock that he was honored with the Big East’s top individual award.
When the All Big East first team was announced the other day, it appeared as though Scottie Reynolds, the prolific senior guard from Villanova, had all but put it away.
He was the only unanimous player picked on that first team. Meaning that he is the only player in the conference that every single voter put on their first team ballot.
At least one voter had to have Wes off of his ballot.
That should have been a lock for Reynolds. A well deserved lock.
He led (and has led for the past four years) the Wildcats to another great season and has them on the cusp of a potential No. 2 (or, possibly, No. 1) seed in the NCAA tournament. His numbers have been good and steady all season, and he was unquestionably the leader for ‘Nova.
Wes was no doubt solid all season, but his production has been off for at least a month since he took that hard fall against Providence.
A second injury to his hand further put a damper on him, and his shooting, once so silky, has been feeling more like a rough, deerskin coat lately.
Wes was still putting up good numbers though, a lot of that coming from the free throw line. His shooting percentage has gone down, but he has gotten more aggressive in getting to the basket and it’s paid off with the foul shots.
Perhaps the funniest thing about all this is that Scottie Reynolds is the unquestioned leader of The Wildcats. There’s absolutely no doubt in anybody’s mind about that. When you think of Villanova, Reynolds immediately comes to mind.
That same thing can’t be said for Wes.
Many people, myself included, believe Senior Andy Rautins is the leader of this Orange team. It’s something his teammates and coaches have echoed all season long, and something Rautins has proven over and over on the court.
Even Wes himself, in a press conference after winning the award, said he would have voted for Rautins. Like I said, where’s the more unselfish guy in basketball?
Or in the world?
It was even a surprise to see Andy on the All Big East second team, as I truly thought he deserved a place on the first team.
Not taking anything away from Wes, but Rautins has been the glue of this team. Much like Reynolds is for the Wildcats.
So what made Wes the pick?
Like I’ve mentioned before, and like everybody has at some point, Wes is the best overall basketball player on this team. That certainly doesn’t necessarily translate to being the leader. But, by far, he was the most athletically gifted and talented player to suit up for The Orange this year.
He’s the only one with any true NBA lottery stock at this point, and is highly expected to dip out after this season and join Flynn in the NBA.
Maybe then, it comes down to what it seems to always come down to in sports.
Is the player of year simply the best player on the best team?
That would seem to be the only justification.
The Orange, for much of the year, dominated the big east. Wes’s team absolutely handled Reynolds team at The Dome in the only meeting, so far, of the two teams.
He is, by all stretches, the best player on the best team.
In that sense, it doesn’t matter if Scottie was the only unanimous pick on the first team. It doesn’t matter how much of a leader Rautins was this year.
The only thing that mattered was Johnson being the best basketball player.
Or maybe it’s because Wes is just such a nice darn guy, it’s hard to deny him of such a great accolade. We don’t want to see him frowning anytime soon.
This is not saying Wes doesn’t deserve it.
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. He has worked his butt off since coming out of Iowa State to become the player he has become. It’s inspiring to see somebody work so diligently outside of the spotlight and for that work to transpire in shooting them right into the spotlight.
It must be even more rewarding for him to know that the work is paying off exponentially.
This is just saying that Reynolds has a legitimate beef, and that maybe if Villanova had beaten The Orange, we’d be looking a totally different article right now.
It’s a great accomplishment for Johnson, becoming the first Syracuse player since Hakim Warrick to win the top award. It’s now also a complete possibility that Wes will become the first Orange player also since Hakim in the same year, to be named to the AP All-American team.
It’s also a great accomplishment for Jim Boeheim, who was rightfully named the league’s Coach of the Year.
He took a chance on a transfer, something he rarely does, and told anyone that would listen that Wes would be a special player for Syracuse this year. It’s nice too, that it’s not much of a surprise for Boeheim to win this year. If anything it should now be expected for him to win National coach of the year. The season speaks for itself; he’s earned it.
In a season of surpassing expectations and fulfilling greatness for The Orange, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that it cleaned up the Big East awards. The ‘Cuse has been surprising people all year long, and a lot of great things have come with that.
Orange fans are certainly hoping there’s some more greatness to come.
And there’s no question Big East Player of the Year Wes Johnson wants to keep smiling.