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The people’s player of the year

While people see only the highlights from Jimmer Fredette, they see everything from Nolan Smith, Chris Cusack writes.
While people see only the highlights from Jimmer Fredette, they see everything from Nolan Smith, Chris Cusack writes.

His name may not be “a noun, an adverb, and an adjective, all wrapped into one,” as Verne Lundquist exclaimed about Jimmer Fredette, but Nolan Smith is every bit the Naismith Trophy candidate that the Jimmer is. For once, though, Duke’s overexposure may be what’s costing Smith’s campaign for National Player of the Year.

If you’re like any other college basketball fan, you’ve probably just seen highlights of Fredette play while Smith makes a national television appearance once a week. That means viewers have seen all sides of Nolan: the good, bad and ugly. They don’t get that with Jimmer, just the YouTube clips. His legend grows with every game not aired outside of the Mountain Time Zone. And as more and more fans turn to YouTube for their full impression of Jimmer, Nolan’s accomplishments may be left behind.

Jimmer’s highlights, admittedly, are nothing short of sensational—I particularly enjoy watching the referee openly shake his head in amazement after the senior drains a 30-plus footer right in front of him. And to Jimmer’s credit, the guy has furthered—albeit not intentionally—his own mythical persona both on and off the court by keeping his own words out of the national spotlight. In January he became a sensation after dropping 43 points in a win over San Diego State. Nelly tweeted that he was “the truth.” Kevin Durant exclaimed that Jimmer is “the best scorer in the world!!”

But what they saw was not an accurate portrayal of a player’s day-in, day-out production.

Durant, for one, just weeks after he was caught up in the first wave of Jimmer worship, took to his blog to clarify who he believed was the nation’s best collegiate player.

“[Smith is] having a phenomenal type of year!” Durant wrote. “A Player of the Year type of year, First Team All-American type of year....”

While the legend lives on in Provo, Nolan goes about basketball as if it’s business as usual. He has no separate public persona, no myth created by overzealous fans. Nolan stays in constant contact with his fans through any variety of multimedia, the most popular being his highly-active Twitter feed—since joining the site he has tweeted 8,725 times to a following of over 28,000.

Ironically, I believe it’s that outgoing personality that keeps him behind in the polls. He has no mystery or cult-like following that comes from being just a collection of YouTube highlights and exaggerations.

Just look at both guards’ season statistical lines.

Smith: 21.3 points, 5.2 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. Over the season he has shot 47.6 percent from the floor with a 1.76 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Fredette: Nation-leading 27.3 points, 4.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game, while shooting at a 45.6-percent clip and dishing out 1.26 assists per turnover.

Besides Fredette’s obvious lead in scoring, Nolan has had a better season across the board. Fredette takes a whopping 19.1 shots per game, good for 31.3 percent of his team’s total attempts. Smith, in contrast, averages 3.6 fewer shots per game, which explains, in part, his lower numbers.

But Smith is on pace to become the first player ever to lead the ACC in both points and assists, while Fredette only possesses the Mountain West Conference’s scoring lead. And Nolan has done it all, while still taking over the point guard position since Kyrie Irving’s injury.

As the end of the regular season looms—postseason performances are not taken into account in Naismith balloting—the myth of Jimmer looms large over the college basketball landscape.

But if the voting is based on the on-court performance, Nolan deserves to take the top spot.

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