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Wooden Award Goes to Williams

April 08, 2002|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the trophy for the Wooden Award was designed, John Wooden wanted one more figure to depict the complete player besides the passer, the shooter, the defender, the ballhandler and the rebounder.

"I wanted someone with a cap and gown," Wooden said.

That can be a lot to ask in an age of players leaving early for the NBA, but Wooden couldn't have been more satisfied Sunday when Jason Williams of Duke won the award.

Although Williams is making himself eligible for the NBA draft after his junior season, he is on track to earn his degree in sociology this summer.

"I'm exceptionally pleased by his graduating early, going to summer school to get the extra units which he'd need," Wooden said.

"When anyone who receives it gets his cap and gown, it pleases me very, very much."

Williams, who averaged 21 points a game for a Blue Devil team ranked No. 1 in the nation much of the season, became the third Duke player in the last four years to win the award. Shane Battier won last year and Elton Brand won in 1999.

The runner-up to Battier last year, Williams won by a considerable margin with 5,223 points, followed by junior forward Drew Gooden of Kansas with 4,323 and senior guard Juan Dixon of Maryland with 3,845. The other finalists were Cincinnati senior guard Steve Logan and Gonzaga senior guard Dan Dickau.

Gooden said an announcement should come this week on whether or not he will make himself eligible for the draft.

"[Not winning an NCAA championship] makes the decision a little tougher because I do want to win and I wanted my last game to end on a good note, but you also have to look at some other reasons," Gooden said.

The Los Angeles Athletic Club also honored former Louisville coach Denny Crum with its fourth Legends of Coaching award for a Hall of Fame career marked by the 1980 and '86 NCAA championships.

Because Crum played and coached under Wooden at UCLA, the award had special meaning to both men.

"You've heard me say it before: He was born to coach," Wooden said. "Some of the national championships we won, we probably wouldn't have if we hadn't had him, and he might have won some more if he hadn't played us when we had some of the players he'd recruited for us. I'm very proud of him."

The previous coaches to earn the honor were Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski and Lute Olson.

"I've had a couple of awards that probably mean as much to me as they possibly could," Crum said. "Coach presented me when I was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. That was probably the proudest moment of my professional career, and to receive this award in his name is something special. You don't even dream about having these kinds of awards."

Accepting the award, Crum looked to Wooden and said, "I love you, Coach."

Williams' margin in the player of the year award would have been larger if not for Duke's regional semifinal loss to Indiana in the NCAA tournament.

Gooden and Dixon, who took their teams to the Final Four, picked up votes in balloting that continued until March 25, the day after the regional finals, but Williams' lead was far too big.

"Of course it was disappointing we didn't get a chance to make it to the Final Four or have a chance to play Maryland in Round 3 in what would have been one of the biggest games ever," Williams said.

But Williams won a national championship last year, and said he was happy for Dixon, a player he paid tribute to after winning the award.

"You know, sitting back and watching the game ... just to see them win it, just tasting the glory we had last year, knowing the feeling of how it feels to win a national championship and knowing all the hard times it takes to get there.... " Williams said. "It's great to see him feel that same kind of sensation. I was really happy for him."

Dixon beat out Williams for Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year and was the most outstanding player of the Final Four as Maryland won the NCAA title.

Had the Wooden Award voting gone a week longer, Dixon might have won that too.

"I guess you could make a case for it, but I'm not sweating it," Dixon said as the formal rivals complimented each other.

"It just shows how much respect we have for each other," he said.

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