Did you know that since it’s inception in 1953, a freshman has never been named ACC Player of the Year?
Conference legends like Ralph Sampson, Kenny Anderson, Mark Price, Chris Paul, Tyler Hansbrough, and most recently Jabari Parker have taken the ACC by storm, without taking home the conference’s most important hardwood.
This upcoming season, Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor is being heralded as the next great one-and-done, and could very well be the first rookie player to be deemed the ACC’s most important player.
But in the event that he isn’t, here are my top five non-freshman candidates for the award:
Marcus Paige, Junior, North Carolina
17.5 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.2 RPG
If the ACC gave out an award for Most Improved Player, there’s no question for me that Marcus Paige would’ve won it for his 2013-14 campaign. After struggling to find his game as a freshman, Paige put it all together last season, improving his shooting in multiple facets, cutting his turnovers, and being the main force behind North Carolina finishing third in the conference. While competition will undoubtedly be more stiff this season, UNC’s adding talented freshman wings Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson to the fold, which will take pressure off of the multi-dimensional scoring Paige. I’m expecting another huge year out of the Carolina floor general.
Malcolm Brogdon, Junior, Virginia
12.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 37% 3FG
Malcolm Brogdon was arguably the best player, on the best team in the ACC last season, how can he not be in the running for Player of the Year this season? After missing the entire 2012-13 season with a broken foot that he suffered towards the end of his freshman year, Brodgon came back revitalized and better than ever for coach Tony Bennett, shining on one of, if not the best defense in the country, earning himself a spot on the All-ACC Second Team. Although the 6-foot-5 combo guard only shot 41-percent from the field, he still led Virginia in scoring, and with Joe Harris out of the picture, he’ll need to carry even more of the scoring load moving forward. Fortunately for Bennett, Brogdon was vastly improved from distance (37-percent) his sophomore season, and is a career 86-percent free throw shooter.
Montrezl Harrell, Junior, Louisville
14.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 61% FG
After a relatively disappointing freshman season, Montrezl Harrell came back looking like a man on a mission last year, leading the AAC in rebounds and field goal percentage, and establishing himself as one of the most feared front court players in the nation. Harrell is perfect for Rick Pitino’s uptempo Cardinals, as he gets up and down the court like a wing, has great hands, imposing length, and old man (or super hero) strength. Harrell’s also one of the nation’s best defenders, on one of the perennially elite defensive teams in the country, which we saw as he led the AAC in defensive win shares last season. Harrell’s my bet to win Defensive Player of the Year in his new conference 2014-15, and I think his name will be in the Player of the Year conversation as well.
Aaron Thomas, Junior, Florida State
14.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.6 SPG
Few ACC players stayed as relevant as late into the season last year as Florida State guard Aaron Thomas, who had back-to-back-to-back 20-plus post season scoring efforts to lead the Seminoles to the Final Four. Sure, we’re talking about the NIT Final Four, but Thomas put an exclamation mark on his breakout sophomore season, giving his team a spark in their most meaningful games of the season. Thomas led FSU in scoring in 2013-14, showcasing himself as the most diverse offensive player on the team as he shot 37-percent from three, 80-percent from the charity stripe, and being able to score with the best of them transition. Thomas will unquestionably be relied upon to lead the ‘Noles again this upcoming season, and I think we can expect to see him near the top of the ACC’s scoring leaders.
Olivier Hanlan, Junior, Boston College
18.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.9 APG
Few players in the ACC – possibly the country – can score the way BC junior Olivier Hanlan has scored over his first two seasons in the conference, which landed him on the All-ACC Third Team just a season ago. And while BC isn’t much of a threat to to win the conference – or even finish around .500 after Ryan Anderson’s departure – this upcoming season, the 6-foot-4 scoring machine makes them as must see as any team in the conference not named Duke, Syracuse, or Louisville. The former ACC Freshman of the Year is looking to add more hardware to his trophy rack, and with the ball in his hands more for his junior season, he’ll have a chance to put up some big numbers and improve his already solid draft stock.