When Kentucky ran through the 2012 NCAA tournament, winning the national title and finishing the season at 38-2, we all knew that the team was special.
Just how special they were became even more evident this season, as John Calipari’s newest crop of freshmen struggled throughout the year, lacking the leadership and maturity to even make the NCAA tournament. You see, what made that Kentucky team so special was that their two best players — the top two picks in the 2012 NBA Draft — were role players on that team.
And Anthony Davis, the No. 1 pick in the draft, was so good at his role — a shot-blocking force that averaged a double-double and could step out and hit a three — that he won National Player of the Year*.
*(There are currently six National Player of the Year awards, which can make things a bit confusing when talking about who won the award. For the most part, there is usually a consensus when it comes to who won the awards, as one player will win five, if not all six, of the awards. But there are some seasons where it’s more up in the air.)
That may be the most unusual aspect of Kentucky’s 2012 season, and it should also tell you just how impressive the company Trey Burke will keep if he’s able to carry Michigan to two more wins.
The last time that a National Player of the Year winner also won a national title prior to Anthony Davis was in 2004. That was UConn’s Emeka Okafor, but his inclusion on this list is a bit sketchy. He shared the NABC Player of the Year award with Jameer Nelson of St. Joseph’s, who won the other five awards outright. Okafor was the fluke.
Before Okafor, you have to go all the way back to 2001, where Duke’s Shane Battier was named National Player of the Year. Ironically enough, Battier wasn’t a consensus Player of the Year, as the NABC — who has a tendency to “think outside of the box” when it comes to awards — gave his teammate, Jay Williams, their Player of the Year Award.
Ed O’Bannon of UCLA won two of the six Player of the Year awards in 1995 when the Bruins won the title. Christian Laettner was the consensus Player of the Year in 1992 when Duke won their second of back-to-back titles. Danny Manning won three of the six awards in 1988 when Kansas won it all, Darrell Griffith got one award in 1980 with Louisville won the title and Scott May won four of the then-five available awards in 1976.
All told, nine players have won a National Player of the Year award and the National Title in the past 36 seasons. Three of them (Okafor, Griffith and Williams) won just one of the six available awards that six, and another one (O’Bannon) won two of the six. Manning and Hersey Hawkins both won three of the six awards in 1988.
Do the math, and that means that just three times in the past 36 years has a National Title winner been a consensus — or near-consensus — National Player of the Year.
Now I don’t know if Burke is going to end up being a consensus National Player of the Year, not with the love affair that the nation had with Victor Oladipo for much of the season or with how well Otto Porter played during Big East schedule. But he was our National Player of the Year.
And he should be everyone else’s Player of the Year.
And that was before he carried Michigan to the Final Four.
So all that’s left is for Michigan to win it all, right?
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.