Thiel: Pac-12's top player is . . . Ross or Wroten?

Thiel: Pac-12's top player is . . . Ross or Wroten?


Tony Wroten looks to get a shot up against South Dakota State's Griffan Callahan in the first half.


by Art Thiel


Posted on February 29, 2012 at 8:57 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 1 at 3:00 PM

Looking upon the choices for Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year, the curiosity is whether the decision is like the one faced by Academy Awars voters for Picture of the Year: Is "The Artist" really the best movie if it leaves out a vital part of the enterprise?

I guess the Oscars outcome says it's OK to have a silent film. So maybe it's OK too, if the Pac-12 selects a player of the year even when the league is silent. So that makes nominees out of two local candidates, Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross.

No disrespect to the Washington tandem, who, if they chose to go pro, may well be first-round NBA picks in June. But Ross, who's played only two seasons, can explode one game and disappear the next, as was seen Saturday in Pullman when he scored two points and fouled out in 21 minutes. Wroten can explode and disappear on back-to-back plays.

Those characteristics aren't disqualifiers as much as they are chronic conditions of youth. Seems at least some part of the award should be be about a body of work. These guys are too young to have bodies of work. They have body parts.

Then again, when it comes to one-and-done college ball, particularly in the emaciated Pac-12, the idea of a great player staying four years is so . . . Brandon Roy.

The former Huskies great was POY in 2005, joining center Christian Welp (1986) as the only Huskies to win the award since it began in 1975-76.  Roy was also one of only two among the last eight winners who was a senior. He built himself a splendid career arc and into the kind of dominant force in a dominant league that fits the profile of best in show.

Instead, this year the Pac-12 POY could be  . . .  Jared Cunningham? He's a nice player, a 6-4 junior guard from Oregon State, who leads the league in scoring at 18.2 ppg. But he's about 53.5 percent the player that Roy was. Right, right . . . so is the 2012 Pac-12, compared to 2005.

Still, Cunningham is mostly a one-dimensional player on a mediocre team, a shootist who is shooting 44 percent, about the same as Ross (15.1 ppg), which is a little less than Wroten's 46 percent (16.7 ppg). And Ross is also fifth in the league in rebounding.

Naturally, coach Lorenzo Romar is not bashful about honking the horns of his guys, playing the card of team success as something of a tiebreaker.

"If we win out and end up on top (as regular-season champion) you've got to give these guys high, high consideration," he said at his weekly presser. He went down a short list of contenders, but the only meaningful one was Jorge Gutierrez of Cal.

Romar said if the Pac-12 gave a most inspirational award, Gutierrez, a 6-3 senior guard who does well a little bit of everything hard and well, would get his vote. If old-school sentiment carries the day, Gutierrez wins. But if a player is required to carry a team for a time, there's not a Pac-12 coach who wouldn't take Ross or Wroten over Gutierrez, even if they ended up adopting Gutierrez.

While there is no rule that says the best player on the best team wins, there is similarly no rule that says the best two players who are on the best team can't cancel each other out in the belief that each is helped greatly by the other.

Asked to make a choice between his stars, Romar nearly answered the question before it was finished being asked.

"Too hard for me to say," he said as he whipped out his shield of coaching diplomacy.

Armed with no such protection, seems to me that, with a week of games to be played, Ross has been sufficiently dominant to win a close call with Gutierrez. Wroten is worthy of mention, but the last freshman to win the award was UCLA's Kevin Love, who in 2008 was a first-team All-America and took the Bruins to the Final Four.

But there I go again, comparing the league to the time when it was not a mid-major conference, looking to get an NIT bid.

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