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Wake not pushing Paul for honor

Chris Paul was deferring to his teammates so much that the Wake Forest coaching staff restated its need for him to be a more aggressive scorer.

Paul took the cue and has been off and running, as in away, from teams like Texas, New Mexico and Virginia.

"[Assistant Jeff Battle] told me before the Texas game that in order for us to win the game, I had to be more aggressive and had to score," Paul said. "I finally realized that in order for us to be successful I had to be aggressive offensively as much as defensively."

Paul's adjustment to think about scoring as much as passing has reinvigorated his campaign for national Player of the Year, even if Paul and the entire Wake Forest program want nothing to do with any kind of promotion for such an honor.

At least, not yet, not until the Demon Deacons are cutting down the nets in St. Louis. And, even then, they might have a problem singling Paul out among his MVP-caliber teammates like Justin Gray and even their glue guy and top defender, senior Jamaal Levy.

"I haven't done that [push a player for an individual award] in 30 years and I won't do it," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "Chris wouldn't do anything to separate himself from his teammates."

Paul reiterated the same thing he has said all season: "I know my roommate [Gray] could win the Player of the Year award."

Paul, the preseason cover boy and favorite, is on a torrid streak. The sophomore is averaging 18.2 points, eight assists and 3.6 rebounds in the past five games. He made 13 of 19 3s, after making just seven in the first eight games.

Those numbers include 23 points and 12 assists in a win over Texas, 23 points (five 3s) in a win at New Mexico, and 21 points (11 of 12 at the free-throw line) and nine assists in an ACC opening win at Virginia Sunday.

Paul opened the season by putting up 25 points in a Preseason NIT win over George Washington. But then over the next eight games he didn't get 20 once and had three games where he was in single digits. That stretch included a 2-for-11 night in a Preseason NIT title win over Arizona as well as a 4-for-11, 10-point game in a crushing defeat at Illinois -- the Demon Deacons' only loss of the season.

"I was deferring to my teammates, who are unbelievable players," Paul said. "But I should look to create shots for myself as well as get guys open."

Point guards have won an outright or share of the Player of the Year award (remember, there is the Oscar Robertson, Wooden and Naismith national awards) the past three seasons (Jason Williams, Duke; T.J. Ford, Texas; and Jameer Nelson, Saint Joseph's).

"It's such a crucial position that it has become the glamour position in our sport like quarterback in football," Prosser said. "This award should go to the best guy on the best team as long as he's not a jerk."

Paul said the Player of the Year should be the person who makes his team better, not the one who is scoring, rebounding and topping all the statistical categories.

"The pros for Chris Paul is that he'll be seen repeatedly on national television, but it also could be a minus since everyone could nitpick his game," said Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli, who coached last season's Player of the Year in Nelson.

"If Chris Paul can be the best player on that team, in that league with all those great point guards, then why wouldn't he be (Player of the Year)?" Martelli said.

Why?

Well, Paul will get a run for ACC Player of the Year from another national Player of the Year candidate in North Carolina junior guard Rashad McCants (16.6 ppg, 46.1 percent on 3s). McCants isn't his team's top scorer (17.1 ppg for Jawad Williams). But neither is Paul (14.3 ppg), who trails Gray (16.2 ppg) and Eric Williams (14.9 ppg).

Duke's J.J. Redick (21.9 ppg), Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack (14.3 ppg), Maryland's John Gilchrist (17 ppg) and N.C. State's Julius Hodge (19.2 ppg) all could make a run at ACC Player of the Year, as well as All-America status.

But a host of other national Player of the Year contenders will push the ACC candidates, although it will largely depend on how their teams do in their respective conferences and whether they stay healthy.

Paul probably gets the edge at this point over Arizona State's Ike Diogu (22.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.8 bpg) because of the strength of competition. But don't tell that to ASU coach Rob Evans, whose Sun Devils wouldn't be 11-2 without a monster season from the junior forward.

"There's no doubt he's the Player of the Year," Evans said of Diogu. "This guy is doing everything, scoring over double teams and triple teams, and blocking shots. He's absolutely the best person I've been around in 30-something years of coaching. He's an unbelievable talent."

Evans said Diogu should be considered for the Player of the Year award over the other contenders since "those teams are probably better than us. He doesn't have another pro player on the team with him. I'm biased, I know. I'm realistic, too. There are great ones out there, but none better than Ike Diogu."

Marquette coach Tom Crean makes a similar case for senior point guard Travis Diener.

Diener, who is averaging 21 points and 6.2 assists, scored 34 on Air Force, 29 against Wisconsin and 32 on Nebraska in the three biggest wins of the season for the 12-1 Golden Eagles. He scored 14 of the Eagles' 43 points in a five-point loss to Arizona.

"He's a legit national Player of the Year candidate," Crean said. "His statistics are right there. We're 12-1 and he's had an impact with everybody he plays with."

Crean's example was Diener's refusal to sit out a seemingly meaningless game against South Dakota State the week of the Wisconsin game when Diener was nursing an ankle injury.

"I'm not sure everybody would have played against South Dakota State in that situation," Crean said. "He didn't want to miss the game. He absolutely loves the game. Somewhere along the way, that has to be accounted for and respected."

The numbers for Mississippi State's Lawrence Roberts (18.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg) are hard to dispute. Undefeated Boston College has a candidate in forward Craig Smith (20.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg). Louisville guard Francisco Garcia (16.2 ppg, 4.2 apg), Gonzaga forward Adam Morrison (19.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Syracuse forward Hakim Warrick (20.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg) are all in the mix.

So, too, is the trio at No. 1 Illinois, a group that's hard to separate: Luther Head (16.2 ppg, 46.7 percent on 3s), Deron Williams (14.6 ppg, 6.5 apg) and Dee Brown (13.3 ppg, 5.4 apg).

But don't sleep on Kansas' Wayne Simien, just because he's presently out with a thumb injury. Simien (17.4 ppg, 12 rpg) was on track to contend for the award before he got hurt in a win over South Carolina. He missed wins over UW-Milwaukee and Georgia Tech and could be out another week, missing games against Texas A&M and at Kentucky.

"He's still right there because he's putting up those numbers and we're going to get him back soon," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "The award should be based on team success and how well you lead, carry a team and do all the things to that give your team the best chance to win. So many postseason awards are based on stats and that's not right."

Let the debate rage over the conference season. Nelson edged out Connecticut's Emeka Okafor a year ago. This race will be much closer, in large part because it could have as many as five to seven contenders down to the final weekend.

But as the conference season begins, Paul is still right near the front, if not in the lead, just like he was when practice started on Oct. 15.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.