LAWRENCE, Kan. — Bill Self remembers having arguments with his kids over who was better, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, and the Kansas coach always went with the pride of French Lick.
The reason was simple: The Lakers simply oozed talent, so Johnson didn’t receive the sole attention of opposing defenses. Bird was the key to the Celtics winning or losing.
That’s why Self also goes with Thomas Robinson, the third-ranked Jayhawks’ star forward, when the debate turns to national player of the year. Anthony Davis has had a sublime season for top-ranked Kentucky, but he’s surrounded by a cast of characters capable of 20 points a night.
Without Robinson, the Jayhawks could be sitting on the NCAA tournament bubble.
Naturally, the Wildcats’ supporting cast is a big reason John Calipari would vote for Davis.
“At the end of the year, he’s going to end up taking 200 shots less than all those guys that they’re considering — 200 shots less — yet probably has as big an impact on any of these games,” the Kentucky coach said. “What he’s done defensively for us, what he’s done offensively for us — and he’s done it in a way where he’s not selfish in any way.”
Calipari is right that Davis will end up taking far fewer shots than most superstars. He’s also right that there are other deserving candidates for player of the year.
Kevin Jones has been phenomenal for West Virginia. Doug McDermott has re-established Creighton as a mid-major darling. Draymond Green of Michigan State and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State have emerged as the two titans of the Big Ten.
In the Wildcats’ storied history, no player has landed one of the three major individual honors: the Wooden Award, Naismith Award or AP Player of the Year. Dan Issel didn’t do it. Neither did Tony Delk, Jamal Mashburn, John Wall or Tayshaun Prince.
Kevin Durant is the only freshman to win all three trophies in the same season.
The Jayhawks have had their share of stars in recent years: Paul Pierce, Nick Collison, Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins, to name a few. But they haven’t had anybody win national player of the year since Danny Manning won the Naismith and Wooden awards in 1988.
No player from Kansas has won the AP award, which was first handed out in 1961.
“It’s a two-horse race, without question,” Self said, “and they’re both thoroughbreds.”