Robinson, Davis emerge as top POY candidates

Bill Self remembers having arguments with his own kids over who

was better, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, and the Kansas coach

always went with the pride of French Lick.

The reason was simple: The Lakers simply oozed talent, so

Johnson didn’t receive the sole attention of opposing defenses.

Bird was the key to the Celtics winning or losing.

That’s why Self also goes with Thomas Robinson, the third-ranked

Jayhawks’ star forward, when the debate turns to national player of

the year. Anthony Davis has had a sublime season for top-ranked

Kentucky, but he’s surrounded by a cast of characters capable of 20

points a night.

Without Robinson, the Jayhawks could be sitting on the NCAA

tournament bubble.

”Anthony impacts the game in a variety of ways, in some ways

more than Thomas does, but his supporting cast is so strong,” Self

said. ”I really believe Thomas has had the best year.”

Naturally, the Wildcats’ supporting cast is a big reason John

Calipari would vote for Davis.

”At the end of the year, he’s going to end up taking 200 shots

less than all those guys that they’re considering – 200 shots less

– yet probably has as big an impact on any of these games,” the

Kentucky coach said. ”What he’s done defensively for us, what he’s

done offensively for us – and he’s done it in a way where he’s not

selfish in any way.”

Calipari is right that Davis will end up taking far fewer shots

than most superstars. He’s also right that there are other

deserving candidates for player of the year.

Kevin Jones has been phenomenal for West Virginia. Doug

McDermott has re-established Creighton as a mid-major darling.

Draymond Green of Michigan State and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State

have emerged as the two titans of the Big Ten.

Still, Davis and Robinson are leading the pack for the national

awards.

In the Wildcats’ storied history, no player has landed one of

the three major individual honors: the Wooden Award, Naismith Award

or AP Player of the Year. Dan Issel didn’t do it. Neither did Tony

Delk, Jamal Mashburn, John Wall or Tayshaun Prince.

Kevin Durant is the only freshman to win all three trophies in

the same season.

The Jayhawks have had their share of stars in recent years: Paul

Pierce, Nick Collison, Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins, to name

a few. But they haven’t had anybody win national player of the year

since Danny Manning won the Naismith and Wooden awards in 1988.

No player from Kansas has won the AP award, which was first

handed out in 1961.

”It’s a two-horse race, without question,” Self said, ”and

they’re both thoroughbreds.”

So how best to handicap it?

Start with the stats:

David is averaging 14.1 points and 9.8 rebounds, and his 66.1

field goal percentage is among the 10 best in the country. The

6-foot-10 forward also has swatted 140 shots, and needs just 31

more blocks to break the SEC record set by Mississippi State’s

Jarvis Varnado in 2009.

Robinson, meanwhile, is the only player in the Big 12 to average

a double-double at 18 points and 11.9 rebounds. He’s been even

better against ranked teams, averaging 19.8 points and shooting

nearly 56 percent against a group of opponents that includes Duke,

Baylor and Missouri.

Kentucky, too.

Many forget that Davis and Robinson faced each other at Madison

Square Garden early in the season. Davis finished with 14 points,

six rebounds and seven blocks in his second college game, while

Robinson turned in an 11-point, 12-rebound performance for

Kansas.

”If I had a vote, he’d be my vote for player of the year,”

Texas coach Rick Barnes said Saturday night, after watching

Robinson pile up 25 points and 14 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ 77-58

victory. ”Just the way he’s carried himself, playing against him –

he’s terrific.”

Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor considers he an astute observer of

the game, and he’s more than willing to share his opinion on just

about anything.

”Anthony Davis is a beast, man, he definitely is,” Taylor

said, ”but I just don’t see too many better than T-Rob. Especially

when he’s on top of his game.”

Davis has his own supporters, starting with the guys taking the

floor with him.

”He’s doing everything,” Kentucky guard Doron Lamb said.

”He’s always playing defense, he’s always scoring. He’s always

doing the right thing, really. I don’t see him making no

mistakes.”

”He gets his points so easily: rebounds, dunks, stuff like

that,” added freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer. ”He’s come a long way

on offense and defense.”

There are plenty of differences in Davis and Robinson.

Davis is long and lean, while Robinson has muscles upon muscles.

Davis prefers to work around the rim, using his quickness to get

around post defenders, while Robinson has shown an improving

mid-range game and the ability to extend defenses all the way to

the perimeter.

There are also similarities.

Both prefer to pawn off the attention on their teammates, giving

them credit for their own success. Both have become the go-to

player when things are going poorly, though that’s rarely been the

case this season. Both have led their teams to conference

championships.

Now, both of them are in the running for player of the year.

”He’s created a lot of attention for himself,” Taylor said

Robinson, one of his best friends on the Jayhawks. ”He’s the main

focus of the scouting report, for sure, and I’m sure teams talking

about us say, `If we stop Thomas, we have a chance to win the

game.”’

Sounds as if the Kansas guard would vote for Bird, too.