While Kyle Wiltjer and Tyler Haws were preparing for their quarterfinal games with Gonzaga and BYU in the WCC Tournament in Vegas, they were being honored as 2 of the 15 best players in the nation as both were named finalists for the John R. Wooden Award on Saturday. The Wooden Award is given annually to the best player in college basketball as chosen by a panel of over 1,000 members of the media.
The WCC was one of just two non-power conferences to have players named to the list of 15 finalists. The ACC leads the way with four finalists, and the WCC was one of five conference with two players on the list. The Ohio Valley Conference was the other non-power conference as they also had two players make the list. The Pac-12 rounded out the selections with one player.
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Wiltjer was named WCC Newcomer of the Year in his debut season with the Bulldogs after transferring from Kentucky. He finished 5th in the conference in scoring and 9th in rebounds and was the leading scorer for the regular season champion Zags. After winning a national championship and being named SEC Sixth Man of the Year in his time with the Wildcats, Wiltjer became an impact player in his first college season with significant playing time.
Haws finished the season 4th in the nation in scoring and 1st in the conference on his way to All-WCC honors. A top candidate to lead the nation in scoring and possibly win this award, the hype around Haws quieted as it became clear he would not lead the nation in points and the Cougars struggled. He did still have a fine season however, and he will leave BYU as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Neither Wiltjer or Haws is expected to win the award, but even being named to this final list is a great honor. Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin and Jahlil Okafor of Duke are the two favorites to take the home the award. The final voting will occur from March 16th through the 23rd.
On March 3oth, the Wooden Award All-America Team will be announced consisting of the top ten players, and both Wiltjer and Haws should have good shots at making that list. They will however likely fall short of the top five players who will found out at the awards ceremony on April 10th who won the Wooden Award.