Why are freshmen eligible for Player and Rookie of the Year?
If Dean Smith were alive and still coaching, he would be asking that question about a rule he thinks is patently unfair. Remember when he kept Michael Jordan off the cover of Sports Illustrated with the four returning starters on the 1982 team? Or when he lambasted SI for writing a big feature on Kenny Smith?
That’s because Michael and The Jet were both freshmen, and Smith believed that first-year players had to earn everything – from minutes on the court to publicity – and the Dean would determine when they had accomplished all that.
The rule he would hate is the one that allows freshmen to win both ACC Player and Rookie of the Year. Sure, you’d say, why not? The best player should be honored as such. But Smith would have come up with a bucket list of objections by now.
First, statistics aside, five-star freshmen haven’t earned anything but a lot of attention and overblown press before they arrived at school for their first seasons. He would also say that stats don’t correctly forecast a player’s future, like former Dukie Jahil Okafor, who won both awards in his one-and-done season, plus played on a national championship team. But how’d that work out for him in the NBA? So far, not so good.
I’m sure Roy Williams will do this when the time is right, but Smith would not have been subtle in his promotion of junior Luke Maye for ACC Player of the Year. Let Marvin Bagley III make unanimous All-ACC and Rookie of the Year, but he has to put in more time than one season to win Best Player.
Smith, who knew and admired Mark Maye, Luke’s father and former Tar Heel quarterback, would have loved his son’s story for accepting walk-on status (although that didn’t last very long) and working his way from a scrub as a freshman, to the reserve who beat Kentucky from Jordan’s spot on the left wing, to his amazing junior season as the ACC’s second-best player.
“Second best player?” Smith would question. “What about all the little things Luke does that don’t show up on the stat sheet. The way we keep stats, he is having a much better year than Bagley.”
If you watch Maye move without the ball, bang on the blocks and expend more energy in 10 minutes than MBIII’s amazing skill set uses in a game, you might agree with Smith. I can hear him now chiding the media, “If you don’t vote for Maye, you don’t know basketball.”