3-legged race for player of year

Fredette, Walker, Sullinger may be on their own level

February 01, 2011|By Shannon Ryan

Have you been afflicted with Jimmermania? Officially Krazy for Kemba? Swept away by Sully?

The three main candidates for national player of the year have been jockeying for position with jaw-dropping performances, clutch plays and solid statistics. The debate is heating up over who is the best. It looks like a race between Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette and Connecticut's Kemba Walker, but don't count out Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger.

You know you're big-time when NBA stars are tweeting about you. Fredette, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, has become a top Twitter trend as well as a top candidate for player of the year.

He dropped 43 points on San Diego State to deliver the Aztecs their first loss of the season. Fredette has scored at least 40 points in three of the Cougars' last five games and has scored at least 30 points eight times this season.

"Jimmer Fredette is the best scorer in the world," Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant tweeted.

His season high was a 47-point performance at Utah, and even in BYU's loss at New Mexico, he scored 32 points.

Leading the nation in scoring at 27.6 points per game, Fredette is peaking at the right time. The country is starting to turn its attention toward college hoops as the NFL season winds down with the Super Bowl this weekend.

The Mountain West doesn't boast the same loads of talent as the Big East or Big Ten, and BYU's nonconference schedule was pretty weak. But Fredette showed up in games that mattered: 39 points in a victory at UNLV and the 43 against San Diego State.

Jimmermania may just be getting started.

Sullinger, a 6-9 forward, is the long shot among the three, but he's the go-to player on the only unbeaten team in the country. And there's plenty of time left before final voting.

Averaging 18 points and 9.9 rebounds, Sullinger is a load inside and also a skillful passer despite the double teams opponents throw at him.

Sullinger, who has won four Big Ten player of the week and 10 freshman of the week awards, is the best big man at Ohio State since Greg Oden — and he hopes to take the Buckeyes back to the national title game, as Oden did in his lone season in Columbus.

"He wants to win basketball games," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. "He enjoys his time at Ohio State and wants to make the most of it."

That could be only this season. Sullinger is projected as an NBA lottery pick — possibly the No. 1 pick — if he leaves early.

Walker, a 6-1 junior, also could be NBA-bound after this season. In a tie game with the clock winding down, Walker would be the pick of any player in college basketball to take the last shot.

Walker nailed a game-winning jumper with five seconds left in overtime to beat Texas on the road, and a little more than a week later, he took down Villanova with a drive through the lane and a floater with 2.5 seconds left.

It was at the Maui Invitational where the point guard first turned heads. He scored 31 points against Wichita State, 30 against then-No. 2 Michigan State — including the game-deciding shot — and 29 against then-No. 9 Kentucky to win the tournament MVP award and help the off-the-radar Huskies ascend to national prominence.

Averaging 24.2 points, Walker ranks third nationally in scoring. His speed and deft ballhandling skills give opponents fits.

Lately, Walker's numbers have fallen, but he still produces against Big East competition nightly.

"He's gotten better and better and better," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "He's come down to earth a hair, but he's at an atmosphere higher than the rest of us."

sryan@tribune.com

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