CRAWFORD | Five (plus) reasons my Wooden Award vote went to Will - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Five (plus) reasons my Wooden Award vote went to Willie Cauley-Stein

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — I cast my first vote for the John Wooden Award Tuesday, in a taxi in Seattle headed for the airport -- about 4 hours before the balloting deadline.

I don't vote for many awards anymore. I'm not in many of the clubs. I'm not in the U.S. Basketball Writers Association anymore. If it can't keep me out of the rafters at the Final Four, I'm not sure what the point is. Certainly, to name a coach of the year before the season is over doesn't make much sense to me. And to name a coach that isn't John Calipari when his team still hasn't lost makes even less.

But it's not my deal. I don't vote for the Heisman. Used to. The award seems to be doing fine without me.

And I'm pretty sure I didn't vote for the winner of this year's John R. Wooden Award, given annually to college basketball's player of the year. I expect Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky to walk away with that award.

But Willie Cauley-Stein walked away with my vote.

I appreciate the Wooden Award because it gives a clear criteria:

    •    Candidates must be full-time students in an accredited NCAA college or university.

    •    Consideration should be given to scholastic achievement and aspirations. All candidates must have a cumulative 2.00 grade point average since enrolling in their current university.

    •    Candidates must exhibit strength of character, both on and off the court.

    •    Candidates should be those who contribute to team effort.

    •    Candidates must excel in both offense and defense.

    •    Candidates should be considered on their performance over the course of the entire season (pre-conference, conference and tournament play).

My reasons for casting my vote for Cauley-Stein?

1. He's the best defensive player in the nation. There's no better defender of all five positions in basketball than Cauley-Stein. He is the most disruptive defensive force in the college game. He can defend the perimeter and shut down outside scoring. He defends in the post, and often plays the head of the UK press.

2. He's efficient offensively, but plays on a team that doesn't need offense from him. He has played some of his best offensive games against the best teams UK has faced. He has a stronger mid-range face-up game than people realize. He's not averse to going coast-to-coast with the ball. Without question, it's pretty clear from watching him play that he's capable of showing more offensively than he generally shows. Which brings up point No. 3.

3. “Candidates should be those who contribute to team effort.” Cauley-Stein, like all his teammates, has sacrificed for the team. But I'm going to say this. Of all the finalists for the Wooden Award, I don't think any has sacrificed as much for his team as Cauley-Stein. 

4. Cauley-Stein is a third-year player. While most have held out Jahlil Okafor as a leading candidate, it's worth noting that he'll likely spend only one year in college. And while that's all right, it should be noted that in this case, it's the Kentucky player who is demonstrating a more traditional collegiate approach.

5. He's not only academically successful, but demonstrates a range  of interest that stretches beyond basketball. He's more charitably involved with the community in Lexington and the surrounding area than we know, and isn't all that interested in publicizing it.

He's the backbone of a team that has won more consecutive games without losing than any team in NCAA history. He has battled injury and persevered through difficult circumstances. He's articulate and intelligent. And he's a talented basketball player. Yes, his brilliance on defense is greater at this point in his career than it is on offense. But think about this: No one impacts a game offensively as much as Cauley-Stein changes a game defensively.

And what he represents, and the team he represents, should also figure into this. Bill Walton said a couple of weeks back that Kentucky's entire team should win the award. “Kentucky's the best, and their sacrifice should be applauded, saluted,” Walton said.

That's not going to happen. But this could.

When it comes to an award like this, everybody is deserving. You don't become a finalist without a dynamite resume and great talent. I'm going to be surprised if Cauley-Stein wins. But it would be the right call.

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