There were signs before the start of the 2014 season that Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico’s senior forward, was primed for an all-Mountain West Conference, and possible MWC player of the year, performance. A native of Australia and an atypical graduate of the games Australia Institute of Sport — as he told Sports Illustrated’s Kelli Anderson, “I was fairly small, 6-7 or 6-8, 200 pounds, and I was a pretty terrible athlete to be honest” — Bairstow suited up for two Australian national teams this past summer, and his performance in the World University Games (Australia earned its first ever medal in international play) was a primer to what would eventually be a special season for Bairstow.
The 6-foot-9 Bairstow put on a considerable amount of muscle and has maintained it during the season, and after a considerable boost in percentage of minutes played, Bairstow is having a career year, converting 57 percent of his twos and posting the team’s second-best offensive efficiency rating. As good as Alex Kirk, Bairstow’s frontcourt mate, has been in the post, Bairstow had been better, and has transformed into the focal point of opposing defenses’ gameplan.
However, when the conference announced their player of the year selection earlier today, Bairstow was noticeably absent. The award went to San Diego State’s Xavier Thames, a worthy choice if the honor was handed out a few weeks ago: including the mid-February loss to Wyoming through the end of the Aztecs’ regular season, Thames has made just 37.5 percent of his twos and 20 percent of his threes. The only Aztec with the ability to consistently break his man off the dribble and create his own — and his teammates — offense, Thames has been blanked. Meanwhile, over a similar time span, Bairstow has converted nearly 60 percent of his twos and recorded just double-doubles. Thames had a great season, and he is one of the primary reasons that Steve Fisher’s club has spent most of the season atop the top 25 rankings, but I’m not the only one who believes Bairstow was robbed: according to Wyoming big Larry Nance Jr., “Thames had an incredible year! Congrats to him. But I just thought Bairstow was incredible this season.”