The Wooden Award is one of the most coveted awards a player in the NCAA can win, and last year’s race between seniors Buddy Hield, Brice Johnson, Malcolm Brogdon and Denzel Valentine was one of the closest races in years. Hield eventually came out on top, and this year’s batch of potential winners features players from each grade across multitude of conferences.
Lonzo Ball, Freshman, UCLA
The two-time Wooden Award winner for his play in high school, Lonzo Ball is the highest recruit to sign with UCLA since Shabazz Muhammad in 2012. Unlike Muhammad, Ball has a complete game. The 6-6 point guard led his Chino Hills squad to a 35-0 record while recording 23.9 points per game, 11.3 rebounds per game, 11.5 assists per game and 5.1 steals per game.
He can run an offense in the half court and is a killer in transition where he can finish at the basket or find an open man for a three. He’ll be the lead guard for a talented UCLA team that could be considered a sleeper in the NCAA Tournament next year.
The expectations for Ball will be high as he will be the main piece for a UCLA program looking to regain its status among the NCAA’s elite.
Josh Jackson, Freshman, Kansas
A consensus top three recruit, Josh Jackson is one of the most dynamic athletes that the NCAA will have to offer once the season rolls around. The 6-7 shooting guard/small forward is a blur with the ball in his hands and has elite hops and will likely put more than a few defenders on posters this season as he rocks the rim in Allen Fieldhouse. His speed and quickness allows him to be a menace on defense, where he can swipe a ball handler or protect the rim.
He’ll learn under one of the greatest coaches of his generation in Bill Self, who will likely turn him into the next Andrew Wiggins. A likely one-and-done prospect, Jackson and his Kansas club will be must watch TV this winter.
Thomas Bryant, Sophomore, Indiana
In his first year at Indiana, Thomas Bryant showed flashes of greatness despite not being the first option for the Hoosiers. In just under 23 minutes of play, Bryant averaged 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and shot 68% from the floor. Bryant also showed off a little touch from downtown, going 6/15 from deep in his first year in Bloomington, but he’s clearly a back-to-the-basket worker.
Although he’s not a great athlete, Bryant has a strong 6-10, 245 pound frame and a long 7-5 wingspan, which allows him to be effective as a defender, even if he doesn’t block a lot of shots.
With the losses of Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams to the NBA, expect Bryant to make a jump in production like Jakob Poeltl did last season for Utah following the loss of Delon Wright.
Ivan Rabb, Sophomore, Cal
A potential top 10 pick in the 2015 draft, Rabb shocked everyone by announcing he was staying at Cal for at least one more year, and time will tell whether that helped or hurt his draft stock. But based on last year’s performance and a loss of talent in Berkeley, odds are Rabb will see an increase in production.
As a freshman, Rabb scored 12.8 points and brought in 8.6 rebounds a game. Rabb likely stayed in school to put on more weight to his slender and lanky 220 pound frame and polish up his basic, yet ever improving post moves. Rabb got better as the year went on, and an extra year to work on his skills should only help him and move him even higher up draft boards.
Rabb’s length makes him a solid two-way player on the post. His block totals should only rise from the 1.2 he averaged last season. Also, Rabb has pretty good athleticism that lets him defend smaller forwards, bring in rebounds on both ends and get shots off over defenders.
The best remaining player from the 2015 class, Rabb should put up huge numbers this season.
Allonzo Trier, Sophomore, Arizona
It all seemed to be clicking for Allonzo Trier as a freshman until he broke his hand in January. He could have declared for the draft and been a late first round pick, but he gets to improve his stock on an absolutely stacked Arizona team.
Before his injury, Trier was the Wildcats’ third leading scorer at 14.3 per game, while shooting a respectable 46% from the field, 79% from the line, and 36% from deep. Although he doesn’t provide much of anything else, Trier knows how to get his buckets, something the Cats missed down the stretch.
With Ryan Anderson and Gabe York both graduated, Trier is the best player and scorer returning. And despite a great draft class (despite losing Terrance Ferguson to an overseas team) and the return of Ray Smith following an ACL Tear, Trier will be the go-to option for Sean Miller.
Dillon Brooks, Junior, Oregon
The best player on a deep and veteran roster, Brooks isn’t the runaway favorite on his own team to contend for the Wooden Award, but we’ll pick him anyways.
Brooks led the Ducks to a #1 seed and Final Four berth, while leading them in scoring at 16.7 points a contest. An all-around forward, Brooks doesn’t excel at one facet of the game, but instead is above average at just about anything. He’s a undersized forward at 6-6, but still likes to post-up, where he is a threat to drive, shoot over a defender or pass.
His shooting numbers were also respectable, as he knocked down 47% of his shots from the field, 80% from the line and 33% from deep. His lack of great athleticism may keep him from being a star at the next level, but he’s one of the best all-around talents in college.
Grayson Allen, Junior, Duke (pictured in featured photo)
Grayson Allen will be the most hated player in America next year, and for good reason. He’s emotional, loud, gets under people’s skin and can be a bit of a dirty player sometimes. In other words, he’s exactly what you’d expect from a Duke shooting guard (think J.J. Redick).
Allen has worn many hats in his first two years under Mike Krzyzewski: can’t miss prospect, under performing role player, NCAA Tournament hero, star.
Allen is a stud on offense, as seen from his 21.6 ppg, 46% shooting from the field, 41% from three point range and 83% from the foul line. And while he doesn’t look it, Allen is a superstar athlete with above the rim bounce. Allen even won the McDonald’s All-American High School Dunk Contest in 2014. And white men can’t jump… (it’s a movie, relax).
Anyways, Allen, like Brooks, has some serious competition for this award from guys on his own team. Duke added a quartet of stud freshmen, led by Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum. Allen gets the nod here due to no injury history (Giles) and a more complete game (Tatum) and college experience.
Trevon Bluiett, Junior, Xavier
Mr.Do It All for the Musketeers last season, Trevon Bluiett returns as one of the best players in the Big East. Bluiett played four positions on the court, but was arguably most effective as a small ball four. He can play point guard in a pinch for Edmond Sumner and incoming freshman Quentin Goodin.
Bluiett, like Brooks, isn’t special at anything, but instead puts checks in boxes for every part of the game. His jump up from 32% from three to 39% will either prove to be an aberration or a true making of a sharpshooter. Outside of his three point shooting, Bluiett is a strong finisher at the rim, a good rebounder (6.1 a game) and a feisty defender.
To take the next step up the NBA prospect ladder, Bluiett will have to work on his shooting consistency and aggressiveness as a scorer. Edmond Sumner was also considered for this spot for Xavier and is considered a big time break out prospect, but Bluiett is the more complete player.
Josh Hart, Senior, Villanova
Hart made the questionable decision to come back to school, as his draft stock was likely the highest it will ever be following the national championship game. But, he’s back, and due to his return, he’s one of the leaders to take home the Wooden Award.
He was Nova’s leading scorer last season, scoring 15.5 ppg. A surprisingly good rebounder at 6-5, Hart is more than just a scorer. Although his three point shooting dropped from 46% to 35%, his free throw numbers went up, showing a more complete game and willingness to attack the basket.
Hart, along with Kris Jenkins, will be one of the best 1-2 combo’s in the NCAA and make Nova a competitor to repeat as National Champions.
Jaron Blossomgame, Senior, Clemson
The least known name on this list easily goes to Jaron Blosssomgame. He’s played on a couple of crappy Clemson teams in his first three years, but his game has really blossomed (pun obviously intended) in his two most recent years under Brad Brownwell.
His scoring numbers jumped up from 13.1 to 18.7 per game, and he showed of an improved jumper, hitting 45 out of 101 threes he attempted. The addition of a three point shot was huge for Blossomgame, as he had already shown off his impressive athleticism while on campus. The next steps for him will be working on his shot creating and passing abilities, as he’s already a strong rebounder and competent defender on the wing.
Hopefully another huge year from Blossomgame will get him some much needed love from the media in the NCAA Tournament.
Cover Photo via NCAA.com
Other photos via MaxPreps, LansingStateJournal, IDSNews, CaliforniaGoldenBlogs, BleacherReport, LATimes, CincinnatiVsEveryone, VUHoops, GeorgiaBasketballBlog