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Wooden Headed to Early Choice

College basketball: Williams favored to win, despite pressure from tournament standouts.

April 07, 2002|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jason Williams of Duke has been the overwhelming choice for college basketball's player-of-the-year awards, but the announcement of the Wooden Award winner today holds a tiny bit of intrigue.

That's because voting didn't end until March 25--four days after Williams missed a free throw with four seconds left in Duke's regional semifinal loss to Indiana, and one day after Drew Gooden of Kansas and Juan Dixon of Maryland carried their teams to the Final Four.

"It's going to be interesting," said Duke Llewellyn, founder of the Los Angeles Athletic Club award that has honored the top player since 1977.

In contrast to the Associated Press player-of-the-year award, for which voting is complete before the NCAA tournament begins, the Wooden Award seeks to include the tournament--but without becoming simply a Final Four most valuable player honor.

"We thought we'd like to have it cover the entire season--preseason, conference play and tournament play," Llewellyn said. "It was my feeling too many award decisions were being made at the end of conference play."

Williams, a junior guard who is entering the NBA draft, remains the favorite--particularly because many of the 1,000 voters submit their ballots by mail, and those had to be postmarked by March 19, after the first and second rounds.

Votes submitted over the Internet could be filed as late as the Monday before the Final Four--but only 30% of votes were submitted the final weekend, meaning 70% voted before Duke lost.

Williams averaged almost 22 points and five assists a game and has won every player-of-the-year award--though he shared the National Assn. of Basketball Coaches award with Gooden, a junior who averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds a game for the Jayhawks and is weighing whether to turn pro.

Dixon, a senior guard, averaged 19 points and three assists.

He upset Williams for Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year and was named most outstanding player of the Final Four after leading Maryland to its first NCAA title--after the Wooden voting was over.

In 1988, Kansas' Danny Manning surged past Bradley's Hersey Hawkins to win the award in late voting that ended after Manning led Kansas to the NCAA title.

The question this year is whether Williams' lead was insurmountable.

Cincinnati's Steve Logan and Gonzaga's Dan Dickau are the other finalists invited to the ceremony at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Net.

Denny Crum, a former Wooden assistant at UCLA who led Louisville to national championships in 1980 and '86 before retiring last year, will receive the "Legends of Coaching" award.

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