Last season began with a variety of contenders for the Wooden Award, one of college basketball’s honors for national player of the year. But Doug McDermott seized the lead early and maintained it for the bulk of the season.
That race lacked the drama of past years because McDermott trounced the field in the first 100 meters and suppressed any doubts about the final outcome.
Things are different for 2014-15. And that’s why I can’t wait to see how this season’s Wooden Award race evolves.
We don’t have a McDermott-like front-runner who has a clear advantage over the field. Yeah, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell will certainly crack the Wooden Award’s preseason list. Maybe they’ll be the only two in the mix in the final weeks of the season. But newcomers such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor could make noise too.
This thing seems so open right now. So many contenders and possibilities.
Proof? Check out these lists.
My top Wooden Award contenders (returning players)
Frank Kaminsky -- Wisconsin star is one of the toughest players to defend due to his size and range, and he’s back for another run.
Montrezl Harrell -- Louisville center is bigger, stronger and faster even though he was bigger, stronger and faster than everyone last season.
Marcus Paige -- Averaged 17.5 points per game and 4.2 assists per game for North Carolina last season, but he’ll have more help and the potential for a more productive year.
Fred Van Vleet (or Ron Baker) -- Wichita State’s point guard finished fourth nationally with a 4.02 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he’ll take on a bigger scoring role this year. But Baker, a future pro wing, could ultimately represent Wichita State in the Wooden Award mix.
Branden Dawson -- Tom Izzo’s team will be built around the sturdy, skilled 6-foot-6 forward who was a McDonald’s All-American before injuries interrupted his progress.
Georges Niang -- Iowa State power forward excels with an IQ and arsenal few bigs can match, and he’s healthy again after suffering a foot injury during last season’s NCAA tournament.
Andrew Harrison -- Kentucky point guard will lead the deepest frontcourt in the country and most talented roster in America.
Ryan Boatright -- Had 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in win over Kentucky in national title game, and now UConn is his squad.
Chasson Randle -- The Stanford guard averaged 18.7 PPG and shot 39 percent from the 3-point line for a Cardinal team that reached the Sweet 16 last season.
Juwan Staten -- If you haven’t heard of Staten (18.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.8 APG, 40 percent from the 3-point line for West Virginia last season), you will. Soon.
My top Wooden Award contenders (freshmen)
Jahlil Okafor -- Duke big man has great hands and mobility.
Cliff Alexander -- Kansas freshman is trapped in a grown man’s body.
Stanley Johnson -- Linebacker who decided to play basketball at Arizona.
Kevon Looney -- Perhaps the next great UCLA freshman.
My top Wooden Award contenders (sleepers)
Marcus Foster -- The sophomore could be one of America’s breakout stars after leading Kansas State to the tourney last season.
Brandon Ashley -- Arizona forward is healthy now after missing a chunk of last season with a foot injury.
Caris LeVert -- The 6-6 standout will be the next Michigan wing to turn pro and carry the Wolverines to Big Ten title contention.
I don’t know how this year’s Wooden Award race will play out, but I can’t wait to see it.