Earlier this week, Oklahoma’s senior guard Buddy Hield became the first player ever to be named the AP Big 12 Player of the Year in consecutive seasons. He’s already on the short list, which includes Mookie Blaylock, Blake Griffin, Harvey Grant, Stacey King and Wayman Tisdale, of the greatest players to ever wear a Sooners uniform.
He was named the Sporting News Player of the Year as well after scoring 30 or more points in nine games, including the magnificent 46 he poured in against Kansas, in addition to his eight rebounds and seven assists at Allen Fieldhouse in a three-overtime thriller. It was a performance that garnered a standing ovation from the Jayhawk fans.
The last time Oklahoma was this good, Blake Griffin was leading them to the Elite Eight while looking like he was dunking on a nerf hoop. After his freshman year, Hield snuck up on a lot of people while elevating his scoring average from eight to 17 points per game. As a sophomore and a junior, he was known as a shooter. Now, he’s known as a great overall player.
A native of the Bahamas, Hield was considered a two-star prospect coming out of high school. His first love growing up was track and field, and playing D-I hoops seemed like an unattainable dream, especially when he stood 5-foot-5 as a ninth grader. Now standing 6-foot-4, he averaged 25.1 points per game. To give you some perspective, one of the greatest college scorers of the modern era, the University of Texas’ Kevin Durant, averaged 25.8.
Hield has converted 49% of his overall shot attempts this season, including 48% from beyond the three-point line. He converts 89% of his free throws, snags 5.4 rebounds per game and has connected on more 3-point shots than any player in the country.
In a day and age where being a senior in college basketball has been devalued due to the proliferation of underclassmen that declare early for the NBA Draft, he’s one of a handful of players that is instituting a paradigm shift in that thought process.
Another is Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine.
The senior All-American was considered to be an endangered species, but Valentine and Hield are spearheading a revolution.
Valentine does everything on the basketball court. He’s an outstanding shooter, an electric scorer, a proficient passer, a ferocious rebounder and a crafty defender. Like Hield, he didn’t walk onto the East Lansing campus as a top-level recruit stopping through after a couple of semesters to cash an NBA check. He averaged five points per game while connecting on only 28% of his three point attempts as a freshman.
Fast forward to today, where he’s averaging 20 points per game while connecting on 45% from deep. He also puts up 7.4 and 7.5 rebounds per game, reminding many people of a similar Spartan player named Draymond Green because of his ability to do so many things well.
On Tuesday, Valentine took home USA Today’s National Player of the Year award. He’s also been named the Big Ten Player of the Year as well.
Both seniors have had exceptional seasons for teams that entertain serious hopes of winning a national championship.
Those in favor of Hield say that he’s an amazing scorer, leader and teammate. Valentine’s supporters say that he elevates the players around him while scoring, passing and crashing the glass, and that he actually accounts for more of his team’s scoring output once assists are factored in.
Both guys are irreplaceable and function within what’s in the best interest of the team. No one is more terrifying for an opposing defense than both of these guys with the ball in their hands.
Yeah, freshman Ben Simmons is sensational, and sophomore studs Tyler Ulis of Kentucky, Melo Trimble of Maryland and Grayson Allen of Duke are special. Providence’s junior point guard Kris Dunn is no joke, as is Oakland’s third year floor general Kay Felder and Iowa’s junior forward Jarrod Uthoff.
But this season has been the year of the senior. Kansas’ Perry Ellis, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, Iowa State’s Georges Niang, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell have all been spectacular. That’s part of the reason why this year has been so much fun, because of a preponderance of talented seniors who’ve stayed in school and grown before our very eyes.
And none have done so more than Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine, either of whom would be an outstanding choice for the most prestigious season-ending awards as college basketball’s Player of the Year.