Andrew Wiggins dunks on a breakaway versus Iowa State. Wiggins scored 29 points in the game on Jan. 29, 2014. (Photo: KU Athletics/Twitter)
ATLANTA – Rookies no more, Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins and center Joel Embiid have been named to the list of top 30 candidates for the 2014 Naismith Men's College Player of the Year award presented by AT&T, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Thursday.
The freshmen Jayhawks are two of the five Big 12 Conference representatives on the list, joining Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane of Iowa State and Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State. Aside from Wiggins and Embiid, only four other freshmen made the prestigious list.
Wiggins has led Kansas – and the Big 12 freshman class – in scoring all season and currently registers 16.0 points per game. Known for his extreme athleticism, Wiggins can change games with his drives to the rim, whether it be with a quick layup or through his 74.8 free throw percentage, which is tops among KU’s starters and 10th in the Big 12.
The Vaughan, Ontario, Canada native has surpassed double-figures in all but four of his 24 starts this season and has already climbed to eighth all-time on the Kansas freshman scoring record board. Wiggins’ debut season has seen him hit the team’s only half-court three of the year at Baylor (2/4) and nearly eclipse the freshman single-game record with his 19 rebounds at Iowa State (1/13). Wiggins started 2013-14 as the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, a preseason All-American and the CBSSports.com National Player of the Year and has since gone on to earn Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors twice, as well as, a National Freshman Player of the Week nod.
Embiid, a seven-foot center from Yaounde, Cameroon, has rapidly become one of the best rim protectors in the country as his 2.5 blocked shots per game rank second in the Big 12. With 24 college basketball games to his credit, Embiid needs just two more blocks to break the single-season blocks record by a Kansas freshman. The current freshman record of 62 was set 16 years ago by former KU standout Eric Chenowith in 1998.
KU’s leader with six double-doubles, Embiid also leads the team in rebounding (7.8) and sets the tone from the floor with a 61.2 field goal percentage. Embiid’s rate of progress may be his most impressive feature, however, as the KU big man didn’t begin his basketball career until he was 16 years old. Now, at 18, Embiid earned a starting spot just eight games into his collegiate career and has started 16-straight games since. His lengthy list of highlights includes double-doubles against top-25 Iowa State, Oklahoma State and San Diego State. Embiid is a two-time Big 12 Newcomer of the Week and earned National Freshman and National Player of the Week status on Jan. 21.
Last season, Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey made the top-30 candidate list as did Thomas Robinson the season prior to that. Danny Manning was the first, and only, Jayhawk to win the award which began in 1969.
Each year, the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s Board of Selectors chooses the 50 preseason “Naismith Watch” list as well as the mid-season team of 30 candidates. The Naismith voting academy narrows that group down to four finalists who will make up the final ballot. The voting academy, comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country, bases its criteria on player performance throughout the season. The 30 candidates will be narrowed to four finalists on March 23, with Naismith’s Men’s College Player of the Year announced April 6.
Jayhawk Nation can help as the fans’ vote will account for 25 percent of the selection process for the Naismith Men’s and Women’s College Player of the Year. This program sets the standard in college athletics for integrating fans into the voting process and providing them with more input than with any other major collegiate sports award.