Wednesday, March 06, 2002

The CourtMaster Hands Out Awards

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye! The ACC regular season is over, and it's time to rule on the best the year has offered. It's time for (insert musical buildup here) The Third Annual CourtMaster Awards!

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: There are three strong candidates for this award, Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy of Duke, and Juan Dixon of Maryland.

If the award were called "Offensive Player of the Year", choosing Williams would be a no-brainer. If it were for "Most Versatile Player", Dunleavy would be a fairly obvious winner. While both have had outstanding seasons, my choice for Player of the Year is Dixon.

I had one overriding reason for choosing him. Take the three players I listed above (probably the three biggest offensive threats in the ACC) and answer this question, when their shot is not falling, who is the most valuable player to their team? I think Dixon is the obvious choice here. He leads the league in steals, plays outstanding individual defense, and is an amazingly strong re-bounder for his size. He is not quite as good a passer or ball handler as Williams or Dunleavy, but his defensive prowess more than makes up for that.

COACH OF THE YEAR: In this category, there are also three valid choices; Coach K at Duke, Gary Williams at Maryland, and Herb Sendek at NC State. I have chosen Williams and Sendek to share the award.

Williams has led his team to the finest regular season in Maryland history. The Terps have won every game against a team they should beat, and his squad has found ways to win in games they did not play particularly well.

Previous Terps teams would have lost the Virginia or Wake Forest games rather than make last minute comebacks. Cast in the shadow of Duke, Williams has led the Terps beyond it and established them as the team to beat going into the ACC Tournament.

Sendek began the season under a shadow of his own, with his job beyond this year seriously in doubt. He has led a team without any discernable low-post game to the brink of ending its 11-year NCAA Tournament drought.

The Wolfpack has been successful with outstanding team defense and senior leadership from Anthony Grundy and Archie Miller. I thought Sendek was either blowing smoke or delusional when he spoke of the high hopes he had for this team in October. I guess that's why he's the coach, and will be next season also.

FIRST TEAM ALL-ACC: In addition to Dixon, Williams, and Dunleavy, I fill the roster with Carlos Boozer of Duke and Anthony Grundy from NC State. Boozer has been the most consistent low-post player in the ACC, and Grundy has excelled at both ends of the court.

SECOND TEAM ALL-ACC: Lonny Baxter and Steve Blake from Maryland, Roger Mason and Travis Watson from Virginia, and Tony Akins from Georgia Tech.

Baxter has been dominant at times this year, but his numbers are down due to sharing the paint with Chris Wilcox. Blake, who recently set Maryland's career assist record, leads the ACC in assists and assists-to-turnover ratio. Mason had to take on the additional burden of running the offense most of this season, but has still managed to place third in the conference in scoring. Watson plays as hard as anyone in the conference and posted a lopsided victory in the race for the ACC rebounding title. Akins has been the key to Georgia Tech's remarkable comeback from a 0-7-conference record to finish 7-9 and head into the ACC Tournament as the second hottest team in the league.

NEWCOMERS OF THE YEAR: Transfer-Dahntay Jones, Duke. Jones came in billed as a scorer, but the defensive end of the court is where he has excelled. Freshman-Julius Hodge NC State. He often showed a lack of maturity on the court, but even more often he demonstrated that he has nearly unlimited potential. He was a key part of the Wolfpack's success this season. Ed Nelson of Georgia Tech made a late challenge to Hodge, and he will be another player to keep an eye on next season.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER-Chris Wilcox, Maryland. Fans clamored for Wilcox to see additional playing time when the Terps struggled last year, but he simply was not ready. Early this season, he often looked lost out on the court, but improved seemingly every time he stepped on the court. He went from a bench warmer to a potential lottery pick in the NBA draft in one season. No other player in the conference improved anywhere near as much as Wilcox has this season.

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR: North Carolina. Are you kidding me, they might just retire this award. Virginia would earn this distinction in a normal season, but no one saw this train wreck of a season at Chapel Hill coming. The Tar Heels have shown some signs of improvement later in the season, and they also extended their streak of never losing to Clemson in Chapel Hill by winning their 48th straight home game against the Tigers.

Carolina could be in contention for a return to the NCAA Tournament next year if Matt Doherty is able to get more out of the incoming freshmen than he did this year. If he doesn't?well, you thought THIS year was unpleasant for the Tar Heels.

GAME OF THE YEAR-TEAM: Clemson's 118-115 double overtime victory over Wake Forest. The Deacons have had more nail-biters than any other ACC team this season. They made up an 11-point deficit in the last two minutes of regulation and forced overtime on Taron Downey's bank shot three-pointer at the end of regulation. Edward Scott and Tony Stockman both had career games for the Tigers, who proved capable of playing exciting basketball at times this season.

GAME OF THE YEAR-INDIVIDUAL: Tie between Craig Dawson of Wake Forest and Steve Blake, Maryland. Dawson evolved into a one-dimension offensive player this season, spending most of his time drifting outside the three-point arc. In the overtime loss to Clemson, however, he was a lethal weapon. Dawson knocked down an ACC-record 11 three-pointers and led Wake's frantic comeback at Clemson on his way to 38 points.

Blake's effort came in Round 2 vs. Duke. He had earned a reputation for playing stifling defense against Jason Williams, but in Round 1 seemed to have trouble even getting in his way. Williams spent most of that evening making Blake look like his feet were nailed to the ground.

Blake responded to that embarrassment by reestablishing his defensive success against Williams and dishing out 12 assists while committing only 1 turnover. He was the catalyst in Maryland's romp over Duke, and gave anti-Duke fans one of the season's highlights when he stole the ball from Williams right before halftime when Williams turned away to receive instructions from Coach K.

UPSET OF THE YEAR: Florida State defeating Duke. As the Seminoles slid back toward their accustomed position near the bottom of the ACC and Duke remained at or near the top of the national rankings, this game became more of a head scratcher. In hindsight, this type of loss seemed inevitable for Duke, a team playing well below their best level at the time. They responded to that loss by slicing and dicing their ACC opponents until they arrived at College Park.

It occurs to me that I am not giving Duke a lot of props in this column. Let me counter that by saying that I feel they are still the most dangerous team in the nation. No team is anywhere near as explosive as the Devils when they are on a roll. Their combination of Williams, Dunleavy, and Boozer can be virtually unstoppable.

As has been correctly pointed out on this site, Duke has staggered at the end of other seasons and still been very successful in the NCAA Tournament. Time will tell if this season falls into that category, or if the Devils are running out of gas after all the minutes their key players have played to this point.

Maryland received a lot of recognition here. They won the regular season title by two games over Duke and SIX games over Wake and State. I think that deserves a bit of recognition, don't you?

That's what I think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at

Until next time, court is adjourned.


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