Oltmanns: Walker leads country’s best players

By Alex Oltmanns

It’s the Heisman trophy of college basketball. The John R. Wooden Award, founded in 1976, is… It’s the Heisman trophy of college basketball. The John R. Wooden Award, founded in 1976, is handed out every year to the premier player in men’s college basketball. While we’re a little more than halfway through the season, I thought I’d take a look at the top five candidates to win the award right now. All the candidates have one thing in common: Their teams are among the nation’s elite and they are the primary reasons why their squads are where they are right now.

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5. Nolan Smith, Duke — Duke seems to have a great point guard every year, and this season is no exception. The senior is averaging a little more than 20 points per game. As the natural leader on the floor, he has carried the team since freshman phenom Kyrie Irving went down with an injury Dec. 4. Smith ran the point for Duke’s championship team last season, and I expect him to lead another Blue Devils team on a deep NCAA Tournament run this season.

4. JaJuan Johnson, Purdue — When star guard Robbie Hummel went out with a knee injury early this season, the Boilermakers knew they would need Johnson to step up — and he has. Like Smith, the senior is averaging just over 20 points per game, and although he stands at 6 feet 10 inches tall, the center can step away from the basket and knock down outside shots. Although many analysts counted Purdue out of the Final Four after Hummel went down, Johnson is making the Boilermakers a threat to get to Houston once again.

3. Jimmer Fredette, BYU ­ The knock on Fredette is that he doesn’t play against enough quality competition in the Mountain West Conference, but c’mon, he’s leading the nation in scoring with 26.7 points per game. Not only that, but he dropped 47 and 42 points in separate games in just under two weeks. In the 42-point game against Colorado State Saturday, he was 4-of-9 from the 3-point line and some of the threes he was making were from well beyond NBA range. As for the knock that he isn’t scoring against top competition, he scored 33 and 25 points against Arizona and UCLA this season, respectively. The guard has led the Cougars to a top-10 ranking and could lead them on a deep tournament run.

2. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State — The true freshman has taken the nation by storm this season, averaging 17.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game while leading the Buckeyes to an undefeated record and the No. 1 ranking in the country. At 6 foot 9 inches tall and 280 pounds, Sullinger is a force in the paint. While watching Ohio State play Illinois Saturday, where Sullinger scored 27 points and pulled down 16 rebounds, I wondered: Who were the poor souls who had to guard this kid just one year ago when he was in high school? Whoever they were, my condolences go out to them. As for Sullinger, this will surely be his one and only year in college, and it just might end with a National Championship.

1. Kemba Walker, Connecticut — The senior guard ranks just behind Fredette in scoring with 25 points per game and is pretty much the one and only reason why the Huskies are ranked in the top 10 this season. Connecticut wasn’t ranked in the top 25 entering the season, but after averaging 30 points in three early season tournament games in Maui, Hawaii, the Huskies and Walker made a statement to America that they were for real. The whole team centers around Walker’s abilities, and for this reason alone, he’s also the most valuable player in the country. Walker is simply a pure scorer. In Connecticut’s loss at Pitt earlier this season, it seemed to me that Walker was struggling to make any shots. Yet when I looked at the final box score, he had 31 points. He goes up against some of the best competition in the country on a nightly basis and dominates. Walker’s the best player in the country.