2012 Wooden Award Preseason List: 5 Dark Horse Candidates for Player of the Year

Eric HampfordContributor IIIOctober 6, 2011

2012 Wooden Award Preseason List: 5 Dark Horse Candidates for Player of the Year

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    The 2012 John R. Wooden Award preseason list has been unveiled. While it contains household college basketball stars such as North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Baylor's Perry Jones III, there are a number of players on the list who aren't the most publicized stars in the college basketball world. 

    What makes the sport of college basketball so great is that every year there seems to be a player who bursts onto the national scene, and in the process, ends up battling up until the very end of the season in pursuit of the illustrious Wooden Award.

    In 2005, it was Utah's Andrew Bogut; in 2006 it was Gonzaga's Adam Morrison; and last season, it was BYU's Jimmer Fredette.

    This season, while many of us are hearing the constant praise of college basketball's big name stars, less-heralded players will be emerging nation wide.

    Look for these five athletes to be in the thick of the Wooden Award chase when the season winds down next March. Don't say I didn't tell you so ...

Will Barton, Memphis

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    The Tigers are loaded this year, and their most talented player is Baltimore's Will Barton. The wiry 6-foot-6 guard averaged 12.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game last season as a freshman starter on a young Memphis squad.

    As a hyped one-and-done NBA candidate, the talented shooting guard had an adjustment period to the college game. However, as the year went on, he became more and more confident in his game, and showed fans nationally why he was considered a top five prospect in his high school class. 

    This year, look for each of his statistical averages to ascend while he is surrounded by a team that is talented enough to make a Final Four appearance, and possibly bring home a national title.

    If that's the case, there is no reason to believe why Will Barton can't bring home the 2012 Wooden Award.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico

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    The only Mountain West Conference player to make the initial John R. Wooden Award list is New Mexico Lobos standout Drew Gordon.

    After transferring from UCLA after his sophomore season, the 6-foot-9, 245-pound power forward ripped through the MWC during his junior season.

    He posted season averages of 13.0 points and 10.5 rebounds, becoming the first member of the Lobos to average a double-double since 1974. He also tied a Pit record with an astounding 23 rebounds in a game against Utah.

    Look for the NBA prospect to post even more eye-popping numbers this year. He has standout guard Kendall Williams to take pressure off of him in the back court, and rest assured head coach Steve Alford will have the offense going through Gordon in many of the Lobos' sets.

    The Lobos have the potential to win the Mountain West, and if they do, the San Jose, California, product will be the reason why.

    Regardless of a MWC title and/or 2012 NCAA Tournament berth, expect Drew Gordon to make his final season in the desert one worth remembering. 

JaMychal Green, Alabama

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    All-SEC power forward JaMychal Green is poised for a huge final season in Tuscaloosa. The 6-foot-8, 230 pound bruiser averaged 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds a game last season for the Crimson Tide, leading them to a 25-12 record. 

    He spent a portion of his summer improving his game and gaining valuable experience while playing with some of the best college basketball players in the United States World University Games.

    The former McDonald's All-American is ready to dominate the Southeastern Conference, as well as the nation, in his final season.

    Teaming with point guard Trevor Releford and small forward Tony Mitchell, look for JaMychal to lead the Tide back to the NCAA Tournament.

    In the process, expect the future NBA draft pick to average close to 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan

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    Michigan Wolverines budding sophomore star Tim Hardaway Jr. is ready to dominate the Big Ten Conference in what may be his last season in Ann Arbor.

    The unanimous Big Ten All-Freshman team member and honorable mention All-Big Ten performer is coming off a stellar freshman season in which he averaged 13.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.

    With point guard Darius Morris drafted to the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, expect the shooting guard to take the reins of the program. The son of the former NBA star, Jr. obviously has the genetics to capitalize on his basketball endeavors. 

    Playing this past summer for the USA Men's U19 World Championship team, he averaged 11.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest, while lighting up Australia for 21 points in the team's final fifth-place game in the tournament.

    Expect a 1st Team All-Big Ten season from Hardaway Jr.

    In what will most likely be his final college season, he could create enough national buzz while racking up the statistics to bring home the nation's most prestigious award.

Khris Middleton, Texas A&M

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    Khris Middleton, a 2011 consensus All-Big 12 and All-Region selection playing for the Aggies last season, is one of four Big 12 members to make the list. He is also the first A&M player to make the Wooden Award list since 2007.

    Consider the 6-foot-7, 210 pound small forward a poor man's Kevin Durant.

    He paced Texas A&M in scoring last season with 14.4 points per game, while also pulling down 5.2 rebounds a game. The lengthy scorer is also a capable passer who averaged over two assists per outing. 

    NBA scouts are already lining up in College Station to get a glimpse of the future pro.

    If last season was Middleton's "coming out party," consider this season to be when he puts Texas A&M basketball back on the map, while also bringing individual glory to the consistent basketball program.