The Southwestern Athletic Conference released its all-conference teams on Monday and the first thing you notice is the player of the year (Texas Southern forward Aaric Murray). The second thing you notice, if you follow Alabama State, is Jamel Waters’ relegation to the SWAC second team all-conference team.
We’re not going to argue with the selection of Murray as the player of the year. He was a man among boys out there on the court, dominating the attention of players, opposing coaches and even the officials. You almost have to change your way of thinking as a coach and official when dealing with a Texas Southern game because Murray, who also was honored as the defensive player of the year, is one of those rare specimens in the paint that commands respect.
I have no problem with Southern’s Tre’Lun Banks as the freshman of the year or teammate Calvin Godfrey earning newcomer of the year. The voting by the coaches and sports information directors in choosing Southern’s Roman Banks as coach of the year is OK, but my vote would have gone to ASU coach Lewis Jackson. Banks had a stockpile of talent and was picked second in the conference behind Texas Southern in preseason balloting. All he did was coach his talent to the title.
Jackson, meanwhile, took a team that was picked to finish seventh and kept it at or near the top for the entire season with only his point guard (Waters) and his forward (Luther Page) returning. The rest of the team was unproven and inexperienced. As his team has faltered a little down the stretch, it revealed the delicate balance of putting the right chemistry on the floor and getting it to play as a team. The ASU coaching staff did an excellent job of coaching this year and that’s how the award should be presented. It shouldn’t be an automatic decision to hand it to the regular-season champ.
Still, Banks is a good choice. And even though Banks had the bulk of his team returning from a squad that won the tournament and played in the NCAA Tournament last year, it’s hard to argue against a coach that won a regular-season title.
But picking guards Antwan Scott of Grambling and Malcolm Miller of Southern over Waters is like pointing to a stat sheet and picking the top scorers. It fails to recognize the overall talent of a player.
Waters finished sixth in the conference in scoring at 14.2 points per game. To use Scott as a comparison, he was third at 15.9 points per game. That’s not a big-enough difference to change anyone’s ballot.
Waters also ranks 12th in the nation in assists — a stat which obviously leads the conference — and is third in the conference in steals. He is second in the conference in minutes played. Keeping him off the first team is ignoring the contributions of a player that deserved serious consideration for player of the year honors. Not that Murray wasn’t deserving, it’s just that Waters put up the kind of numbers that should have garnered him consideration as well.
Waters’ teammate Bobby Brown also earned second-team honors. Both should be first-team selections next November in the preseason balloting.