Since the first game was played in November, there has been one player who has stood above the rest. Connecticut’s Kemba Walker was not recognized as a preseason All-American, but he has been, without reasonable argument, the nation's best clutch player -- as he showed by hitting game-winners against Texas and Villanova and hitting crucial shot after crucial shot at the Maui Invitational.
Walker started off the season putting up 42 points against Vermont, and then he chaperoned a bunch of young players on a field trip to Maui and led them to the tournament title. UConn beat Wichita State (31 points for Walker), Michigan State (30 points) and Kentucky (29 points) behind the inspired and mature play of its junior point guard.
In transition, he has been unstoppable and has scored efficiently in the open floor. Walker also operates at a high level in Jim Calhoun's half-court sets, where he is moved around and allowed to work off the ball like a queen on a chessboard. He has not been a point guard; he has been a player -- and a winner.
When Walker sets a screen, he gets a screen, and with his great speed, shot fakes, body balance and a change of pace, he has defenders on a string. He is able to get to the free throw line with his great body balance and the fact that he is unafraid of the moment.
But this isn't about statistics, although he has put up numbers (24.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.1 spg) that would compete with anyone. This is about winning and about high-level success. What other player in this country has led his team to wins against Wichita State, Michigan State, Kentucky, Villanova, Texas, Marquette and Tennessee? Without Walker, UConn would not be an upper-division team in the Big East.
But he is not my player of the year because others have older, better or more experienced teammates. He is the player of the year because he has performed at the highest level, and because he answered the call against the nation's finest teams over and over again. If one was to select Jimmer Fredette of BYU, Jared Sullinger of Ohio State or Derrick Williams of Arizona, that would be a reasonable choice because all are worthy of the award.
But one player is the most worthy ... and that is Kemba Walker.