On Tuesday night, New Mexico’s Cameron Bairstow went for 14 points and 11 boards for No. 25 New Mexico as they used a late-run in the second half to knock off Utah State and keep pace with San Diego State atop the Mountain West standings.
In the past, that would have been considered a great game for the 6-foot-9 Aussie. We’re talking about a guy that entered the 2013-2014 season, his senior year, with just two double-doubles to his name and career-highs of 17 points and 11 boards. Putting up 14 and 11 at this point last year might have been considered the best game of his career.
Bairstow is averaging 20.2 points to go along with 7.3 boards.
You read that right. A senior that started for a team that was a No. 3 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament is averaging more points in his final season than his career-high was entering the season.
His improvement is even more striking when you watch him play. For his first two years, I remember cracking jokes about how shocked I was that Bairstow was able to dunk. As a junior he was better, especially late in the season, but he was still a slow-footed land-warrior at the power forward spot. His post moves looked mechanical. More than anything, he got by because he was bigger and stronger than most power forwards.
Bairstow is a monster. He went from being a plodding stiff, an afterthought on the Lobos, to being a hulking, long-haired version of Zach Randolph. Think about it like this: Kendall Williams, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year, is averaging 17.1 points, 4.9 assists and just 2.0 turnovers — numbers that are much better than what he posted a season ago — yet he’s not even up for consideration with it comes to repeating as the league’s MOP.
That’s thanks to Bairstow.
I say all that to say this: With all due respect to the five guys that made this list, if you’re naming the nation’s five most improved players and you’re not including Cameron Bairstow, your list is wrong.
He went from being the matchup that Harvard took advantage of in their upset of New Mexico in the 2013 NCAA tournament to being an all-american this season.