March Madness Brain Trust: Honoring College Basketball's Academic All-Americans
March Madness is the time of year in which college basketball is glorified and takes the national stage.
The basketball itself is wonderful, but it is often easy to forget that these players are student-athletes. Academic All-Americans are named each and every year, but this honor is one that is often overlooked.
Such players should be honored and distinguished just as much as All-Americans and NCAA Tournament teams, but they aren't.
I'm looking to justify the situation, and give these players the props they deserve.
Third Team: Riley Benock
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Major: Kinesiology, Physical Education
Riley Benock, a senior guard on Mississippi State, has had a far from remarkable career on the hardwood. His performance this year, however, was indeed crucial to the Bulldogs and their success.
He averaged 6.2 points per game, and scored in double-figures in seven games, which was a career best. His real area of achievement is in academics, where he has an absurdly high GPA of 3.97 with majors in kinesiology and physical education.
It is doubtful that Benock will pursue a career in professional basketball, but should find success elsewhere without a problem.
Third Team: Will Creekmore
Will Creekmore has been integral to Missouri State's success for the past three seasons. The senior big man is third on the Bears in scoring at 11.3 points per game, and grabs 6.5 boards per contest.
Another impressive number is Creekmore's 3.67 GPA as a finance major. His Bears recently bowed out of the NIT against Miami, but his future after basketball is very bright.
Third Team: Scott Saunders
Scott Saunders was one of many contributors this year on the Belmont Bruins, who recently lost to Wisconsin in the Second (really first) Round of the NCAA Tournament.
Saunders chipped in with per-game averages of 9.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.1 rebounds. He managed to do all of this in just over 17 minutes of play per contest.
While not on the court, Saunders hits the books, illustrated by his high GPA as a finance major. Just a junior, he still has another year to play college hoops. He will certainly be focusing on schoolwork as well.
Third Team: Drew Spradlin
Major: Political Science
Drew Spradlin is a junior at Elon University, located in rural North Carolina. He stands at 6'5", and has started for two straight years for the Phoenix.
In his tenure, he has averaged double-digit points in two seasons, and will look to accomplish this feat once again next year.
Such great play on the court has not prevented Spradlin from succeeding in the academic portion of school, as he has excelled in political science. He was the second-leading scorer this season for the Phoenix, and next year, perhaps he will lead the team in both points per game and GPA.
Third Team: Chris Wroblewski
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Major: App. Economics & Management
Chris Wroblewski has not only done incredibly well as a student in college; he has done so at Cornell, an Ivy League institution.
Wroblewski, a slender, 6'0" guard, paced the Big Red in scoring this year at 14.2 points per game. Along with the scoring, dished out 5.7 assists per game, good for second in the Ivy League.
This year was one of rebuilding for Cornell, who went 6-8 in conference this year. Next year, they will look to improve upon this record, and Wroblewski will be the centerpiece.
I doubt that the extra responsibility on the court will reduce his efforts off the court.
Second Team: Nathan Hedgecock
Major: Mech. Engineering Management
Nathan Hedgecock, a senior guard at Army, has a GPA nearly identical to his points per game (4.3). As the sixth-leading scorer and fifth-leading rebounder on the Black Knights, he has contributed solidly to the program at West Point.
One might wonder how Hedgecock manages to play a division one sport while maintaining a perfect GPA at such a demanding institution. How he does it, I do not know, but his eminent performance as a student-athlete should not be ignored.
As a mid-major player, Hedgecock doesn't receive much, if any, national attention, and being honored as an Academic All-American rightfully gives him recognition for his outstanding achievements.
Second Team: Blake Hoffarber
Blake Hoffarber has a name that should sound familiar. He was the kid who hit the game-winner from his backside in the Minnesota High School State Championship a few years back.
Staying true to his roots, Hoffarber attended the University of Minnesota, where he gradually improved throughout his four-year career. This season, as a starter, he averaged 13.6 points per game, 4.1 assists per game, and 3.5 rebounds per game; these were stats which ranked second, first, and fifth on the Golden Gophers, respectively.
He accomplished great goals both on and off the court, maintaining a high GPA in a demanding major. Maybe one day he'll be known for more than his incredible shot in high school.
Second Team: Levi Knutson
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Major: Business Administration
Levi Knutson was a sparingly used player for the Colorado Buffaloes up until this season, in which he 11.6 points per game, to go along with 51.2 percent shooting from the field and 47.8 percent shooting from beyond the three-point line.
Knutson's increased responsibilities on the court have not deterred him from the academic portion of being a college athlete. Instead, his GPA has soared to 3.92, and companies will be lucky to have him working for them next year, if he decides to go that route.
In the working-world, Knutson will tower over his colleagues, for he stands at 6'4". Based on his performance in college, his quality of work will be above the competition as well.
Second Team: Garrett Leffelman
Major: Economics, Political Science
Brown University is an Ivy League school, and hardly any students have a GPA of 3.89. Garrett Leffelman is able to reach such a mark while also playing basketball at a high level for the Brown Bears.
Leffelman has steadily improved year-to-year, transforming from a little-used player as a freshman into the team's fourth-leading scorer as a senior.
To play college basketball is a huge accomplishment, as is going to an Ivy League institution. Leffelman has done both, and performed more than adequately in the two.
Second Team: Jalin Thomas
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Major: Sports Studies
Jalin Thomas, along with Trey Zeigler, was part of an exceptional backcourt for the Central Michigan Chippewas. Out of Columbus Ohio, Thomas averaged 15.9 points per game this season, along with 5.3 rebounds. His team went 7-9 in the MAC, but his efforts cannot be questioned.
As a college athlete, Thomas has an appropriate major of sports studies. Similarly to his performance on the court, he has done remarkably well in the classroom. He became the first Chippewa to earn Academic All-American honors since Sander Scott in 1993.
Doing well in the classroom isn't new to Thomas; at Pensacola Junior College, he was also an Academic All-American. Heading into the "real world" next year, he should feel very optimistic about his future prospects.
First Team: Tim Abromaitis
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Having sat at the 2008-09 season, Tim Abromaitis is currently a graduate student at Notre Dame. Such a high level of education has not prevented him from playing well on the court while balancing his time efficiently.
Abromaitis managed to average 15.4 points per game this season for the Fighting Irish, who disappointingly lost to the Florida State Seminoles in the NCAA Tournament. He and Ben Hansbrough led a team that many thought would make a deep run in March.
Unfortunately, they did not live up to the hype, and Abromaitis must now say goodbye to college hoops. He is not currently projected to be drafted into the NBA, but would fit in nicely on a European team. After his basketball career is done, whenever that may be, he will have a multitude of career options.
First Team: Devon Beitzel
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Major: Finance Accounting
Devon Beitzel's life has by no means been devoid of hardships and obstacles. ESPN published an article chronicling his career since middle school.
Beitzel has emerged from all of the turbulence as a very strong individual, and is now an Academic All-American; he is also the Big Sky Player of the Year as a member of the Northern Colorado Bears. He has seen an increase in his scoring in each of his four seasons, and shot a remarkable 90.4 percent from the free throw line this season.
Beitzel has done nothing but emerge from difficulties and risen to the top in all of his life thus far, and he will meet all of the goals he makes for himself in the future, which he recently announced might very well be a career in basketball.
First Team: Tyrel Reed
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Major: Pre-Physical Therapy/Ex. Sci.
Tyler Reed has had an illustrious collegiate career, which includes a NCAA Tournament title. Now, as a senior, he will look to give the Jayhawks their second championship in his four year tenure at the school.
Like winning, academics have been a constant in Reed's career. He has a GPA of 3.65, and manages to divide time between hoops and textbooks.
As a starter this season, he has averaged 9.8 points per game, but the most impressive stat is just 0.9 turnovers per game, in 28.5 minutes of action. This number demonstrates how his intelligence translates to the hardwood. When his career is finally finished, he could very well have two NCAA Championships.
While that is not a sure thing, nobody can take away Reed's Academic All-American honors.
First Team: Tyler Zeller
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Major: Business Administration
Tyler Zeller, a 7-footer at North Carolina, had All-American aspirations heading into his collegiate career as a highly touted high school recruit. Little did he know that those honors would be academic.
Zeller has matured this year as a player, scoring 15.2 points per game, rebounding at a 7.1 per game rate, and blocking 1.2 shots per game. If he stays for his senior year, other All-American honors could be coming his way.
Academic All-American honors should be fine for now for Zeller, whose Tar Heel squad is still in the NCAA Tournament. A Sweet Sixteen (and going strong) appearance and national recognition should leave him pretty satisfied.
Academic All-American of the Year: Matt Howard
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Matt Howard is not an individual who has lived in anonymity whatsoever. After leading Butler to the Final Four last season, he and his Bulldogs shocked top-seeded Pittsburgh to advance to the Sweet Sixteen last week.
Howard scored the game-winning layup in Butler's Second Round win over Old Dominion, and in the Third Round, connected on the game-winning free throw with hardly any time remaining. His smarts and awareness on the court are rivaled by his prominence in the classroom.
Now a two-time Academic All-American, Howard has had the ideal college career. National spotlight has not been lacking, and being a student still remains important to him.
This year, he will look to lead Butler to a similar run as last year, and for Howard, like his team, the sky is the limit.