Player of the Year
C - Anthony Davis, 6-10, Fr, Kentucky
G – Marcus Denmon, 6-3, Sr, Missouri
G – Harrison Barnes, 6-8, So, North Carolina
F – Doug McDermott, 6-7, So, Creighton
F - Jared Sullinger, 6-9, So, Ohio State
C - Anthony Davis, 6-10, Fr, Kentucky
G – Damian Lillard, 6-3, Jr, Weber St
F – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, 6-4, Fr, Kentucky
F – Draymond Green, 6-7, Sr, Michigan St
F – Kevin Jones, 6-8, Sr, West Virginia
F – Thomas Robinson, 6-9, Jr, Kansas
G – Kenny Boynton, 6-2, Jr, Florida
G – Isaiah Canaan, 6-0, Jr, Murray State
F – John Henson, 6-11, Jr, North Carolina
G – Darius Johnson-Odom, 6-1, Sr, Marquette
C – Perry Jones III, 6-11, So, Baylor
F – Kris Joseph, 6-7, Sr, Syracuse
G – Jeremy Lamb, 6-5, So, UCONN
G – Kendall Marshall, 6-3, So, North Carolina
F – Arnett Moultrie, 6-11, Jr, Mississippi State
F – Mike Scott, 6-8, Sr, Virginia
C – Cody Zeller, 6-11, Fr, Indiana
When Collier’s Weekly published its final College Basketball All-America team in 1956, the sport was in the midst of a radical transformation. A new generation of players, led by Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, was revolutionizing the game. Russell, Collier’s 1956 Player of the Year, was the man who sparked the revolution. In Collier’s sportswriter Bill Fay’s words, “the skyscraping” Russell was a “marked man” who led college basketball’s legislators to enact “drastic” new rules. These rules included the three-second violation, goaltending, and a wider lane.
The revolution went beyond rules. Russell “literally stuffed the ball down into the basket with a two-handed shot he calls the dunker.” Fay, while writing the 1956 All-America article, was still wrapping his head around the game’s new direction.
Besides dunking, new rules, and athletic big-men, there is another key way in which today’s college basketball landscape is quite different from Fay’s. In 1956, 9 of the 10 players on Collier’s First and Second Team All-America were seniors, and the 10th was a junior. Today, underclassmen often dominate the game, while four-year stars are a rare exception. The seeds for this change were afoot as early as 1957—the year the original Collier’s shut its doors, when sophomores such as Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor garnered All-America honors.
Will any of Collier’s 2012 All-Americans have a similar impact as Russell or Chamberlain? Most likely they will not. But if there is one player who fits the mold, it is Collier’s 2012 Player of the Year: Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. The long, lean Davis is a gifted athlete who is projected to be the #1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Standing 6-10, with an extremely long wingspan, Davis impacts the game as much on defense as he does on offense. In this way, his game resembles Russell’s as opposed to Chamberlain’s. He broke Kentucky’s all-time record for blocks barely half-way through the season, and he used his long arms to lead the team in steals as well, a rarity for a 6 ft.10 in. center.
As good as Davis is now, scouts expect his game to improve substantially in coming years. Davis grew a whopping 10 inches between his sophomore and senior years of high school, and is only beginning to get comfortable with his big man frame.
Manning the post alongside of Davis is Ohio State sophomore Jared Sullinger. Unlike the long, lean Davis, Sullinger is more physically sturdy at 6 ft. 9 in. and 265 pounds. From the first day he stepped on campus, Sullinger played with a mature edge to his game that belied his youth. He received numerous accolades as a freshman, including being named First Team All-America by many publications. Despite this praise, he spurned the NBA Draft for a chance to compete once again with the Buckeyes. Although hampered with injuries earlier in the season, Sullinger did not disappoint in his second go around. He improved his jump-shot, free-throws, and interior defense. Ohio State coach Thad Matta could count on Sullinger for 17 points and 10 rebounds virtually every game.
While both Davis and Sullinger entered college with huge expectations of stardom, the third forward on Collier’s All-America First Team was much less heralded. Doug McDermott was overshadowed at Iowa’s Ames high School by his teammate Harrison Barnes. Although McDemott was certainly no slouch in high school, averaging 20 points per game and earning All-State honors, he was overlooked by many of the top programs. He ended up surfacing at Creighton University, where his father Greg had recently been named head coach. It was quite a coup for Creighton.
After a solid freshman season, McDermott exploded in his sophomore year with one of the most statistically impressive collegiate seasons in recent memory. The 6 ft.7 in. forward contended for the national scoring title for much of the season, but he did so with unheard of shooting efficiency. While most forwards shoot a high percentage from the floor due to dunks and layups, McDermott excelled from the outside as well. He hit over 50% of this three-point shots and made over 80% of his free-throws, marks that most shooting guards would love to achieve. Back in January, McDermott had one of the most efficient scoring nights in college history. He scored 44 points by hitting 18 of 23 shots (78%), including 3 of 5 threes (60%), and going a perfect 5 for 5 from the free-throw line.
Ames High School has to be proud that not only did McDermott go on to excel in college, but so did his former teammate Harrison Barnes. Barnes, you’ll recall, was the more highly touted of the two, considered to be the #1 high school prospect by Scout.com. At 6 ft. 8 in., Barnes has the length of a forward, but the athleticism and shooting touch of a guard. Because of his height, Barnes’ jump-shots are virtually unguardable, and he hit over 40% of his threes as a sophomore. Like Sullinger, Barnes had a fine freshman season, averaging 16 points per game, but he too decided to return to North Carolina instead of going pro. This led to wildly high expectations for the Tar Heels, the preseason favorite in both the AP & Coaches poll. While some feel that Barnes (or North Carolina) did not live up to such lofty expectations for most of the year, he was still one of the most talented players in the game.
Unlike the 1956 All-America First Team composed of 5 seniors, there is just one 4-year letterman on our 2012 squad, Missouri’s Marcus Denmon. On a team without a typical big man, Denmon was asked to go above and beyond the usual duties of a 6 ft. 3 in. guard. Not only did Denmon score from the outside, handle the ball, and guard the opponent’s top scorer, but he was also asked to rebound the ball amongst taller players. His 5 rebounds per game were second on a Tiger squad that spent most of the season in the Top 10. Besides his versatility, Denmon was known for his clutch play.
One particularly memorable moment was on December 8th, 2010. Early in Denmon’s junior season, his cousin Marion passed away. Marcus and Marion had grown up together in the same house in Kansas City. The day after his cousin’s death, Marcus went on to score 19 points in the second half to lead Missouri to a hard-fought overtime win over Vanderbilt. He also hit the game-winning shot with under 5 seconds remaining in the game.
Because college basketball is no longer dominated by seniors, the gap between the top handful of players and everyone else has shrunk. Our All-America Second Team is almost as talented as our First Team, and our Honorable Mention players are just a hair behind them.
If Collier’s First Team had a sixth slot, it would have gone to Kansas forward Thomas Robinson. The 6 ft.10 in. junior spent the first two years of his college career as a reserve, backing up multiple Jayhawks who went on to play in the NBA. This year, Robinson finally emerged from their shadows and became a feared inside force. He led all power conference players in rebounding, at well over 10 per game. He also led the Jayhawks in scoring and was versatile on defense, where he averaged over a steal and a block per game.
Like Robinson, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones steadily improved throughout his college career. A bruising 6 ft. 8 in. senior, Jones went from being a reserve in his freshman year, to contributing as a starter, to starring as a senior. From the day the season started in November, it seemed like every time you looked at West Virginia’s box score, Jones was scoring 20 points and hauling in 10 rebounds. Jones was able to score in many different ways: pounding it in the paint, occasionally hitting threes, and shooting over 70% from the foul line. Not bad for a 6 ft. 8 in., 260 pound man.
Draymond Green’s career path was very similar to Jones. The 6-7 forward sat on the bench for most of his freshman season, but slowly improved before becoming Michigan State’s clear go-to player as a senior. Like Jones, Green surprised defenses by hitting threes, but unlike most big men, he was a skilled passer adept at finding the open man. Green would often end up with more assists than MSU point guard Keith Appling, and he also led the team in steals as well. Add in 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, and you have yourself one of the most versatile players in the game.
On a Kentucky team loaded with future NBA talent, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s numbers were not as impressive as some of our other All-Americans. But do not be deceived by his scoring average, the Kentucky small forward is a future NBA star. At 6 ft. 7 in., he is a gifted athlete that can muscle up against larger forwards in the paint and also defend smaller players on the perimeter.
The New Jersey native’s college career got off to a sad note, however. On the day he signed his letter of intent to play at Kentucky, his uncle Darrin Kidd passed away. In honor of his uncle, Michael legally changed his name to Kidd-Gilchrist.
Damian Lillard is most likely the least known Collier’s All-American. The 6-3 guard plied his trade at Weber State University in Utah, where he lit up the scoreboard with a killer scoring instinct. As a sophomore, Lillard averaged 19.9 points per game and was named an Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press. He entered his junior season with lofty expectations, but was hampered by a foot injury that caused him to miss most of the year. Lillard was given a medical redshirt exemption, and returned this year better than ever. He led the nation in three-pointers made, shot around 90% from the free-throw line and was neck –and-neck with McDermott for the national scoring title. He also led his team in assists and steals, and was second in rebounding. Not a bad year’s work.
So there you have it, Collier’s 2012 All-America First and Second Team. The make up of these teams, in their youth and athleticism, is quite different than their 1956 counterparts. And there is yet another unmentioned difference, the specter of riches unimaginable to players in the 1950’s. With guaranteed NBA contracts of over a million dollars per year, this year’s crop of All-Americans certainly has a lot to play for. It remains to be seen whether or not any of these players become household names such as Russell or Chamberlain, but it will be fun watching them try.