Five Top Candidates for the 2021 John Wooden Award
If you take a close look at past the Wooden Award winners, the hardware isn’t always handed to out the “best player in the country.” It usually goes to the best college basketball player from one of the top-ranked teams.
In other words, putting up gaudy numbers is one component, winning a bunch of games is the other.
Of course, there’s no written rule that says you have to be on one of the best teams to be considered for the honor. However, it’s without a doubt a major advantage.
Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at five John Wooden Award candidates in 2020-21.
Luka Garza – Iowa
- Year: Senior
- Height: 6’11”
- 2019-20 Stats: 23.9 ppg, 9.8 rbg, 1.8 bpg
The 2020 Big Ten Player of the Year’s decision to return to Iowa City for his senior season was music to Fran McCaffery’s ears. Garza could have easily turned pro after putting up monster numbers as a junior, but the 6’11” center is back with the Hawkeyes with one goal in mind.
Luka Garza isn't looking to out-do himself this year. He says he's already put up the stats to prove he can play at the next level. This year is all about winning as much as possible. He came back to win a title, and that's where his focus is.— Jarek Andrzejewski WHBF (@JDJewski) November 16, 2020
It’s one thing to be big and have a soft touch on your jumper. It’s another if you are big, have a soft touch, and have an exceptionally high basketball IQ. Throw in Luka’s top-notch footwork and his ability to finish with either hand around the bucket.
Add it all up and there are very few scenarios of Garza not being a sincere Wooden Award candidate in 2020-21.
Marcus Zegarowski – Creighton
- Year: Junior
- Height: 6’2”
- 2019-20 Stats: 16.1 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.8 rbg
Don’t worry about trying to pronounce this kid’s last name, just appreciate how well-rounded he is as a player.
If you want to watch an attacking point guard go to work who also shoots the lights out of the gym, just take a peek at Creighton’s leader, Marcus Zegarowski.
42+% from downtown during his freshman and sophomore years, Zegarowski reminds me of a slightly more polished version of Malachi Flynn – the first-round pick by the Toronto Raptors. And that says a lot considering I’m an SDSU alum and a massive fan of Flynn.
The younger brother of NBA guard Michael Carter-Williams enters his junior year in Omaha as the odds-on favorite to win the Big East Player of the Year. He’s undeniably one of the best players in college basketball.
Sam Hauser – Virginia
- Year: Senior
- Height: 6’8”
- 2019-20 Stats: 14.9 ppg, 7.2 rbg, 2.4 apg
Virginia plays better defense than anybody in college basketball, but there’s no question their offense has suffered. Look for that to change in 2020-21 thanks to the arrival of this Marquette transfer.
Talk about a dude who was born with a pure stroke, here’s a guy who shot 92.4% from the free-throw line last season and owns a 44.5% career clip from beyond the arc.
Playing at a “turtle pace” under Tony Bennet could hinder Hauser from matching the scoring output as some of the other college basketball player of the year contenders. With that being said, don’t lose sight of the qualifications for winning this trophy.
This ACC basketball preview reminds you that the Cavaliers are among the best teams in the land. Sam’s going to be their best and most consistent player.
Ayo Dosunmu – Illinois
- Year: Junior
- Height: 6’5”
- 2019-20 Stats: 16.6 ppg, 4.3 rbg, 3.3 apg
The Fighting Illini begin the season ranked inside the top-10 in both major polls. Brad Underwood has some nice pieces in place, but Ayo Dosunmu has a chance to be special.
Instead of bolting for the draft and being a surefire top-10 pick, the 6’5” swingman is back in Champaign in hopes that a national championship run can boost his stock even higher.
Per @CBSSports “He (Ayo Dosunmu) figures to be one of the most prolific scorers on a roster that has a real chance to compete for a national championship”. Safe to say… Ayo and Kofi made the right choice to return… listed as the 3rd best player in 2020-2021. #NBA pic.twitter.com/YpyLulxabt— Dariush Takhtehchian, M.D (@takhtehchianmd) November 11, 2020
Frankly, I’m not sure how much higher this Wooden Award candidate’s stock can get. The Athletic’s CJ Moore already has Dosunmu as the top-rated guard in college basketball entering season.
Cade Cunningham – Oklahoma State
- Year: Freshman
- Height: 6’8”
- 2019-20 Stats: 13.9 ppg, 6.4 apg, 4.2 rbg (Montverde Academy)
The consensus #1 overall pick in all 2021 NBA mock drafts. The Cowboys may or may not challenge for a Big 12 title, but it’ll be hard to ignore Cade Cunningham erupting in Stillwater. At 6’8” and pushing 220 pounds, Cunningham effortlessly glides around the court to get to the spot he wants.
I could go on boasting about Cade’s athleticism and incredible vision, but Matt Norlander, a college hoops analyst at CBSSports, summed it up best.