Winning a college basketball player of the year award is like winning a boxing title. There are so many different organizations that hand out the awards that it is hard to decipher which award is better. Unlike pro sports there is no MVP trophy and unlike college football, there is no Heisman. Is the AP Player of the Year Award better than the Wooden Award? Is the Sporting News Player of the Year award on the same level as the previous two? There’s no consensus with many of the college basketball awards…except when it comes to the Naismith College Player of the Year award.
This award is, of course, named after the inventor of the game, Dr. James Naismith. It has been given out every year since 1969 and the winner is universally recognized as the best player in college basketball for that season. The Naismith Award watch list goes from 50 in the preseason to 30 mid-season before the final four finalists are revealed in March. Then in April the winner is announced after voting by head coaches, administrators, media members and fans. The women’s award winner is also announced around this time and that award has been given out since 1983.
While winning the Naismith Award means you had a phenomenal college season; it doesn’t mean anything when it comes to your professional career. Just as with the Heisman award; there have been many Naismith award winners who were busts in the NBA such as 1978 winner, Butch Lee. However, there have also been 9 Pro Basketball Hall of Famers that have won the award. Most of the other players fall somewhere in between and we will take a look at the award winners since the turn of the century. Here is every Naismith College Player of the Year Since 2000: Where Are They Now?
18 2000 – Kenyon Martin (Cincinnati)
K-Mart helped put Cincinnati on the map under Bob Huggins and the Bearcats were favorites to win the national championship in 2000 until Martin broke his leg in the C-USA tournament. That injury didn’t stop him from being the #1 overall pick by the Nets where he would go to two NBA Finals (2002, 2003) and make an All-Star team (2004). He then played the next 7 years of his career with the Denver Nuggets before finishing up as a journeyman but he was known as one of the legitimate tough guys during his NBA career.
Since retiring in 2015, Martin has been involved with various charities including helping out at-risk and disadvantaged youth. He’s also been a guest TV analyst on such ESPN shows as The Jump and SportsNation which is quite an accomplishment for someone who overcame a stuttering problem as a kid. But the basketball itch isn’t quite scratched for K-Mart as he will be a team captain for the upcoming 3-on-3 league set to debut this summer.
17 2001 – Shane Battier (Duke)
Battier had one of the most accomplished collegiate careers in recent memory as he was a national champion at Duke, a two-time Academic All-American, and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. His success then continued in the NBA, though not initially. He played on a couple of bad Memphis Grizzlies teams before moving to Houston where he was lauded for his work
on the defensive end. He also incited the traditional NBA fan by saying that analytics helped him ‘contain’ Kobe Bryant. Battier would then take his defensive talents to South Beach where he would win two NBA championships or the same number as every other player on this list combined.
After a 13 year NBA career, Battier retired in 2014 and served as an ESPN analyst for one year. He was, shockingly, not very good which surprised just about everyone as Battier always seemed very comfortable when he was the one being interviewed. However, Battier would again put his love for analytics to use as in 2017 he was named the Director of Basketball Development and Analytics with the Heat. Working under Pat Riley means Battier should get used to lots of long nights, early mornings, and overuse of emojis.
16 2002 – Jason Williams (Duke)
Duke went back-to-back in 2001 and 2002 as the now-Jay Williams became the 6th Blue Devil to win the Naismith. Like Battier, Williams was also a national champion and after graduating in three years, left school in 2002 and was selected second overall in the NBA Draft. He had a disappointing rookie season and it would end up his only NBA season as he was involved in a motorcycle accident after his rookie year. His Bulls’ contract stated that he was not allowed to ride motorcycles and he also didn’t have a license to ride them, but he got behind the wheel anyway and it ended his pro career.
Williams would attempt a couple of comebacks after the accident but never played in another regular season game. He admitted that he became addicted to painkillers during the rehab and recovery from his injuries. With his playing career over, he then shifted to the broadcasting booth and became an analyst for ESPN. He is one of the on-site hosts of College Gameday and is essentially the basketball version of Lee Corso.
15 2003 – T.J. Ford (Texas)
Weighing 165 lbs soaking wet, Ford burst on the scene as a freshman and led the nation in assists. His second year he would put UT basketball on the map by winning the Naismith and leading the Longhorns to their first Final Four since 1947. Texas then rewarded Ford by making him just the 4th Longhorn in any sports to have his jersey retired joining Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams, and Roger Clemens. Ford then entered the NBA draft and was selected 8th overall in a class that also included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony.
Ford wouldn’t experience the same success in college that he had in the NBA in part due to a spinal cord injury that knocked him out for an entire season. The injury occurred during Ford’s rookie season, but he would come back two years later and would play a total of 8 NBA seasons before retiring in 2012. Sixteen years after first enrolling at the University of Texas, Ford would then go back to school and complete his bachelor’s degree in youth and community studies. The man who recruited him to Texas and coached him there, current Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, was among those in attendance for Ford’s graduation ceremony.
14 2004 – Jameer Nelson (St. Joseph’s)
After leading St. Joseph’s to a 27-0 start and the Elite Eight, Nelson became one of the few Naismith Award winners to come from a mid-major school. He and Delonte West formed a lethal backcourt that ran roughshod thru the Atlantic-10. The SJU Hawks would come up just two points short of advancing to the school’s first Final Four since 1961 and Nelson finished his college eligibility as arguably the best player in program history.
Nelson began his NBA career as part of a rookie tandem with Dwight Howard in Orlando. His best season came in 2009 as he made his only career All-Star game and helped lead the Magic to the NBA Finals where they fell to the Lakers. After spending 10 years in Orlando, he has since bounced from Dallas to Boston to Denver and just finished his third season with the Nuggets. At 35 he is the oldest active player on this list but plans on returning to the Nuggets for his 14th NBA season.
13 2005 – Andrew Bogut (Utah)
A native of Australia, Bogut was recruited by Utah after touring the United States in 2001 and 2002. He quickly adjusted to his new home as he was named the MWC Freshman of the Year in 2004 and the Naismith Award winner in 2005. By winning the Naismith, Bogut became just the second person born outside of the US jurisdiction to win the award (Patrick Ewing was the first). Bogut is also the only player from the Eastern Hemisphere to claim the Naismith.
Bogut’s strong play at Utah would lead him to become the 7th foreign player to be the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. He had his best statistical seasons in Milwaukee as he averaged a double-double in three straight seasons and also led the NBA in blocks once. But he would experience his best team success once he was traded to Golden State where he would win an NBA title in 2015. He suffered a fractured tibula which forced this past season to end early but he is rehabbing with hopes of returning for another season.
12 2006 – J.J. Redick (Duke)
If you created a 16-player bracket for the most-hated Duke players of all-time, Redick would surely be a number one seed. “F-U J-J” was one of the most iconic chants that rang out across ACC arenas back in the day, in part, because Redick was so good. He was a two-time All-American, won the Naismith as a senior, and left Duke as college’s all-time leader in made three-pointers. But unlike the other Duke players on this list, Redick never won a national championship while in Durham.
Redick had an inauspicious start to his NBA career as he could barely get off the bench in his first two seasons. He improved afterwards but still spent his next five seasons as a backup. After signing with the Clippers in 2013, Redick finally became a starter and has put up the best numbers of his career over the past four seasons. Redick will be a free agent this offseason and is expected to cash in as most think he will get a contract that pays him an average of $20 million per season.
11 2007 – Kevin Durant (Texas)
Lightly recruited out of the Washington D.C. area, Durant committed to Texas the summer before he grew 5 inches. After that growth spurt, all the big schools in the nation came a-calling but Durant stuck with his commitment and joined the Longhorns. His one year in Austin would be arguably the best by a freshman in NCAA history. He averaged 25.8 PPG and 11.1 RPG as he swept the national player of the year awards. Durant also became the first freshman ever to win the Naismith Award and became the third Longhorns basketball player to have his jersey retired (T.J. Ford was the first).
After the Blazers regrettably passed on Durant to select Greg Oden first overall; Durant was selected second by the then-Seattle Supersonics. Over the course of his nine seasons in Seattle and Oklahoma City; Durant has solidified himself as one of the best players in NBA history and a future Hall of Famer. He was a four-time scoring champion in OKC and won the MVP Award in 2014. He then shocked the world by joining the Warriors in 2016 and by the time you are reading this, Durant could be hoisting his first NBA championship trophy.
10 2008 – Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina)
It seems somewhat blasphemous to say, but Tyler Hansbrough is the most decorated basketball player in UNC history. He was a four-time All-ACC player, a consensus three-time All-American, and was named by Sporting News as the best college basketball player of the 2000s. He is the only player in this list to return to school after winning the Naismith Award and it turned out to be the right decision. After winning the Naismith as a junior, Hansbrough then led the Tar Heels to the national championship as a senior and also broke the NCAA record for made free throws.
Hansbrough’s basketball career peaked while in college as he was nothing more than an energy guy off the bench during his pro career. He played 4 years in Indiana before signing with the Raptors where he played for two seasons. His last NBA season came in 2015-16 when he returned to North Carolina to play for the Charlotte Hornets. After spending last season out of the NBA, Hansbrough then signed with the Fort Wayne Made Ants of the NBA D-League in early 2017. At 31 years old, Hansbrough is hoping for one last shot in the NBA.
9 2009 – Blake Griffin (Oklahoma)
The Oklahoma City-born Griffin decided to stay at home and play for the Sooners, in part, because they offered his brother, Taylor, a scholarship as well. While in Norman, Blake raised the profile of the Sooners basketball program and, nearly, put it on the same level as the Sooners football program. After a solid freshman year (in which Sam Bradford would win the Heisman at OU); Griffin burst through as a sophomore and was the consensus player of the year. He had the second-most double-doubles in a season in NCAA history and had the most rebounds in a season in 30 years. That success would parlay him into the first overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.
Despite all of the talent in the world, and being a five-time All-Star, Griffin’s NBA career has been a bit underwhelming due to all of the injuries he has suffered. A stress fracture, a torn quad, a broken hand, multiple knee injuries, and even a big toe injury have knocked Griffin out in various points in his career. Even with all of that, Griffin stands to cash in this offseason as a free agent. He is expected to receive a max contract offer that could total up to $175 million if he chooses to re-sign with the Clippers.
8 2010 – Evan Turner (Ohio State)
Turner was the #49 overall prospect in his high school recruiting class but would end his college career as the best player in the nation. He matriculated from the Chicago area to join Ohio State the year after they lost both Mike Conley and Greg Oden to the NBA. With less stars to share touches with, Turner was a one-man show in Columbus and became the first player in NCAA history to finish ranked in the top two in points, rebounds, and assists in his conference. He would become just the 5th Buckeyes basketball player to have his jersey retired and joined the likes of John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas.
Turner was selected second overall by the 76ers and would spend the first three-and-a-half years of his career in Philadelphia. He was then shipped to Indiana as Sam Hinkie began to implement his ‘process’ and Turner would then spend two years in Boston. He signed a $70 million deal last offseason with the Trail Blazers where he was one of the best sixth men in the league. Turner hasn’t developed into the star that many (especially Philly) were hoping he would become but he’s a solid rotational player who contributes all over the court.
7 2011 – Jimmer Fredette (BYU)
Before there was Linsanity, there was JimmerMania at BYU as Fredette had scoring exploits that had not been seen in years. He scored 1,068 points as a senior which was the most by any player at any school in over 20 years. He broke Danny Ainge’s BYU record for career points, broke the MWC’s conference record for career points, and even got shout-outs from President Obama while he revealed his NCAA Tournament bracket. If only that success and adulation lasted for Fredette once he turned pro…
Fredette’s NBA career is/was an unmitigated disaster. He is the biggest bust on this list and according to some former coaches; his narcissistic attitude didn’t help him. Fredette was the 10th overall pick by the Kings but started just 7 games during his two-and-a-half years in Sacramento. He then bounced from Chicago to New Orleans to New York before embarking on a career in the D-League and overseas. For his part, he was named a D-League All-Star in 2016 and the Chinese Basketball Association MVP in 2017; but his lack of NBA success stands out. At 28, Fredette may get another shot at the NBA but it’s clear that his basketball career peaked in college.
6 2012 – Anthony Davis (Kentucky)
Unlike most normal teenagers, Davis grew 10 inches during his high school career which made him go from an afterthought to the number one recruit in the nation. He landed in Kentucky where he played alongside five other Wildcats that would be drafted the following season. At UK, Davis did everything there was to do as he was a national champion, the SEC DPOY, the Final Four MOP, and set the SEC single-season record for blocked shots.
Just as he was the consensus player of the year, Davis would also be the consensus best player in the draft and was the first overall selection. He hasn’t disappointed in his five seasons in the NBA, but his team, the New Orleans Pelicans, have. They’ve yet to win a playoff game during Davis’s tenure and The Brow has also been saddled with numerous injuries during his career. Nonetheless, Davis is the only player on this list that has a chance at surpassing Kevin Durant as the best Naismith winner since 2000.
5 2013 – Trey Burke (Michigan)
A native of Columbus Ohio; Burks crossed sides in the OSU-Michigan rivalry by choosing the Wolverines over the Buckeyes. The move paid off for the 2011 Ohio Mr. Basketball as he led all Big Ten freshman in both scoring and assists. As a sophomore he really broke out on the national stage as he led Michigan to the National Championship game where they fell to Louisville. It was Michigan’s first time reaching even the Final Four in 20 years and not long after the title game, Burks declared for the NBA Draft.
Burke was compared to Chris Paul by some scouts but his play has been more reminiscent of Cliff Paul. He broke his finger before his first NBA game and had a poor rookie season. He was then benched midway through his second season for Dante Exum, a 19-year-old rookie from Australia. He played one more year in Utah before being traded to Washington last season, but he didn’t start a single game during that stretch. Burke will be a free agent this offseason and says he doesn’t plan on returning to D.C.
4 2014 – Doug McDermott (Creighton)
Dougie McBuckets wasn’t even the best player on his high school team as he played alongside future lottery pick Harrison Barnes. However, McDermott would end up as the best player in college basketball after playing for his dad, Greg, at Creighton. McDermott wouldn’t just have one great season with the Bluejays but he had a historic career as he left college as the fifth all-time leading scorer in NCAA history. He also became the first player in nearly 30 years to be a three-time AP All-American and set an NCAA record by scoring in double figures in 135 straight games.
Despite his unprecedented success in college, most expected that his game would not translate to the NBA, and so far, they are correct. No one expected him to be a star, but he projected as an instant-offense type player off the bench, and the only consistent thing he’s done is come off the bench. After two-and-a-half years in Chicago, he was shipped at the trade deadline to Oklahoma City but his role, nor his production, has increased any. He has one year remaining on his rookie contract and he’ll have to show something next season or he could be following in Jimmer Fredette’s nomadic footsteps.
3 2015 – Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin)
The Chicago area is well represented on this list as following Evan Turner and Anthony Davis; Kaminsky is the third Chicago native to win the Naismith over the last 8 years. Kaminsky started his career slowly at Wisconsin as he was a bench player his first two years. He became a starter as a junior and developed into arguably the best stretch-big in college basketball. As a senior he led the Badgers to an upset over the then-38 and 0 Kentucky Wildcats in the Final Four. Big Frank closed out his college career with a loss in the national championship game vs. Duke but beat out the likes of Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns for the Naismith Award.
After turning down an offer of 6 draft picks to move up to their spot; the Charlotte Hornets selected Kaminsky 9th overall in 2015. Just as he did in college, Kaminsky has spent his first two seasons as a reserve. However, he is still finding a way to make an impact as he finished second among all 7-footers in made three-pointers last season. He may never become a star, but he is a valuable role player and he gets to play for the guy he rooted for while growing up in Chicago, Hornets owner Michael Jordan.
2 2016 – Buddy Hield (Oklahoma)
Along with Patrick Ewing (Jamaica) and Andrew Bogut (Australia); Hield is one of three Naismith winners who was born outside of a United States territory. Hield was born and raised in the Bahamas but attended high school in Kansas before joining the Oklahoma Sooners. He steadily improved throughout his four years in Norman and, as a senior, finished second in the nation in PPG and led the nation in made three-pointers. Hield would then become just the second player ever from the Bahamas to be selected in the NBA Draft as he was chosen 6th overall by the New Orleans Pelicans.
To not saddle him with too many expectations; Hield came off the bench for the first month of his NBA career. He would then become a starter and was seen as a cornerstone of the franchise alongside its star, Anthony Davis. But at the trade deadline, Hield was shipped to Sacramento in a blockbuster deal that sent DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans. In 25 games with the Kings, Hield would set or tie a new career-high three different times and while the comparisons to Steph Curry are a bit premature; Hield has shown he can be a starter in this league.
1 2017 – Frank Mason III (Kansas)
Towson’s loss was Kansas’ gain. Mason originally signed to play at Towson but after failing a class in high school and losing his eligibility; he was then forced to attend a military academy for one year before enrolling at Kansas. During his four years at Kansas he played with numerous future NBA pros including Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid while also working on his own game. It finally showed as a senior as he became the first Big 12 player ever to average 20 PPG and 5 APG. No.1 Kansas would be upset in the Elite Eight but Mason would be the Jayhawks’ first Naismith winner since Danny Manning in 1988.
In the coming days Mason will (hopefully) be selected in the NBA Draft. Despite his college accomplishments, he is expected to be a second round pick and is at risk to being undrafted. If that holds true, then he will be the first Naismith winner since the award’s inception in 1969 to not be drafted within the first 20 picks. Time will tell if Mason is on the wrong side of history but as many on this list showed; your draft position doesn’t determine your success. Your talent and drive does.
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