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Chris Dortch

Jimmer Fredette is one of five Cousy finalists that could get drafted in 2011.
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Cousy Award finalists may all have NBA futures

Posted Mar 26 2011 1:21PM - Updated Mar 26 2011 11:12PM

If ever an award was aptly named, it's the Bob Cousy Award, given annually to the best point guard in college basketball.

I wasn't around to see the former Celtic great in his prime, but I've studied enough film to know that any great point guards who have played in the nearly 50 years since he retired owe Cousy a debt of gratitude. For regardless of whether they realize it, a part of his game has lived on inside them. Cousy was the originator, the creator of a skill set that's widely imitated but seldom mastered.

At 82, Cousy is still a passionate advocate of his former position, as I found out a couple of years ago. I had been asked to join a panel that votes for the Cousy Award, and in preparation for that job, I wanted to find out the criteria the great man himself uses to determine a point guard's worth. His job description for the position is the best I've heard in a lifetime of watching and covering basketball.

"As a point guard, you've got to catch that outlet pass, and in the time it takes to click the shutter of a camera, you've got to see where the other nine players are on the floor," Cousy said. "Then your mind has to be working in terms of what lanes your teammates are going to fill, and who's the best shooter and who finishes well. Then, when you get to the top of the key, you pretty much know in your mind -- even though the defenders are trying to dictate what you do -- what you want to do.

"When you've got a point guard with imagination and vision and the ability to create, basketball to the viewer almost becomes an art form."

Given that summation of what a good point guard is supposed to do, the Cousy Award committee performed its job well this season. What struck me about the five finalists -- the winner will be announced at next week's Final Four -- is that four of them led their teams to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. That's no coincidence.

That three of them, and their teams, were ousted from the tournament on Thursday night, three games short of their ultimate goal, matters little. Theirs has been a job well done, not just this season, but in their careers.

Coming soon to an NBA arena near you:

Jimmer Fredette, BYU

This guy is special. Some might criticize the fact he's a volume shooter, but that's what he had to be for his team to win.

Fredette is so fun to watch because he's not all about cranking up 30-footers (though he has that kind of range). Fredette gets to the rim with an ankle-breaking crossover dribble and creates separation from defenders with jukes, jabs and jump-stops. Once he arrives at his destination, Fredette can score with either hand. And if he gets fouled, chalk up a couple of points -- he's a 90-percent free-throw shooter.

But the best thing about Fredette is a quality all great point guards have. He's a leader and a winner.

"His consistency throughout the year in leading our team has been unmatched," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "His ability to score the ball is pretty well documented, but his ability to get his team to win games is what I think is the most important part of a point guard's responsibility. We won 19 games outside our building this year, in neutral sites or on the road. His ability to do that in any setting has been terrific."

Can Fredette find success in the NBA? Certainly, but people a lot more qualified than me to make that determination will need to concur.

"I love him," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "He's terrific. I've seen the ESPN clips and going by the clips, he's a superstar. The kid's going to be a good NBA player."

Nolan Smith, Duke

Smith deserves considerable credit for taking over at the point when heralded freshman Kyrie Irving was lost for most of the season after suffering a toe injury. He wound up still doing his job as an off-guard -- leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring -- but he nearly led the league in assists, too. That had never been done in the storied league's history.

"I don't think anybody in the country could have taken over as well as he did, without the preparation," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "In doing so, he took his game to a whole other level -- scoring, playmaking and leadership wise.

"A big thing about Nolan is not just the offensive play but the defensive play. We go in the direction of Nolan's on-the-ball defense. He's had a remarkable year."

Kemba Walker, Connecticut

Walker started the season brilliantly and is ending it that way, having guided his team to the Elite Eight.

He served early notice of the season he was going to have in November, leading the Huskies to an improbable victory in the Maui Invitational, averaging 30 points and four assists in wins over Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky. And in the postseason, Walker has been equally impressive, averaging 27.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments.

"We're in the NCAA Tournament and won the Big East Tournament five games in five days because of Kemba Walker," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "There's no ifs, ands, buts. He's a pure point guard who has to score for us. He's had a game of 42 points, he's had a game of 17 assists, he's had a game of 15 rebounds.

"This is all at a shade over six feet and 175 pounds. We've had some very good players here, but he's been the best leader and clearly has done more for his teammates."

Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin

There was no more sure-handed player in Division I basketball this season than Taylor, who commits a turnover about every full moon. Think I'm kidding? He led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.26:1), and in Big Ten play he committed a turnover every 35.8 minutes.

Taylor can also put the ball in the hole, as evidenced by his 39-point game against Indiana that included 18 straight in the second half. That night made Indiana coach Tom Crean a believer.

"He's a first-round pick when that time comes," Crean said.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan paid Taylor the ultimate compliment in a recent conference call allowing the coaches of Cousy Award finalists to advocate for their players. What more can be said about a player than he makes those around him better?

"All the things point guard does that can lead a team, make a team better, help a team be successful, Jordan's done that," Ryan said. "He's taken quite a few average guys and made them above average."

Norris Cole, Cleveland State

Cole's is one of the great stories in the college game this season. Lightly recruited by Division I schools, he made himself into an NBA prospect through good old-fashioned hard work. Many was the day last summer he would crank up 1,000 jump shots because he wanted to shore up what may have been a slight weakness.

Cole's game is well rounded, as he proved the night he dropped 40 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists on Youngstown State.

Only one other player has put together a 40/20 game in Division I basketball the last 15 years -- Blake Griffin.

"He goes out and guards the best player on every team and holds them to single digits," Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said. "At the same time he's going to score his points, and assist for his team. He does basically everything you could think about for a team to be successful."

Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.

You can email him here, follow him on Twitter and listen to the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Hour.

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