Club may have overlooked true valueBy RICK CLEVELAND,
The Atlanta Tipoff Club has announced the four finalists for the Naismith Trophy that annually goes to the player selected as the most outstanding women’s college basketball player in America.
None of those finalists was named Teaira McCowan.
This is absurd. As someone who has watched McCowan play all season – either in person or on TV – I find it preposterous to even imagine there are four more outstanding players than she.
Further, I would submit that no player has been more valuable to her team or come further in the college experience than has Mississippi State’s McCowan.
This is not meant to belittle the accomplishments of Louisville’s Asia Durr, Iowa’s Megan Gustafson, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu and Notre Dame’s Arikie Ogunbowale. All are splendid players on terrific teams.
But none has accomplished more than Teaira McCowan, who has led the Bulldogs to a 32-2 record, the Southeastern Conference regular season championship, the SEC Tournament championship and a Sweet 16 NCAA berth.. She has done so by averaging 18 points and 13.6 rebounds a game, despite sitting out the fourth quarter of many games because her team was so far ahead. She shoots 65.4 percent from the field and has blocked 82 shots. Sunday night, McCowan scored 30 points, was 14 of 17 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked six rebounds and stole the ball twice in State’s NCAA Tournament victory over Clemson.
But those are just numbers. They don’t, by any means, tell the entire story – especially defensively. The 82 blocked shots don’t take into consideration the many more shots she altered or the hundreds more that were never taken because of her presence in the lane. Any basketball coach worth his or her whistle will tell you the No. 1 key to victory is to control the paint – that is the area inside the free throw lane. McCowan absolutely does that as no other player.
Those numbers don’t even tell the story offensively, either. Nearly every opponent sags its defense into the lane to try and stop McCowan. When the ball goes to her she is often double- and triple-teamed. This often affords opportunities for clear shots for McCowan’s teammates. And, if they happen to miss, McCowan is often there to snatch the rebound and put the ball in the basket.
But to better understand McCowan’s value, we must step back and look at the big picture. Mississippi State has played in the national championship two consecutive seasons. McCowan was very much a part of both runs to the national championship game. But listen: Every other starter from those two elite teams has graduated. McCowan is the one starter remaining – and yet the Bulldogs are 31-2, SEC Champions and clearly a threat to go back to the championship again.
Given all that, it really is absurd that she could be overlooked.
We are told that the four finalists “were chosen by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s national voting academy, comprised of leading journalists from around the country, current and former head coaches, former award winners and conference commissioners, all of whom base their selections on outstanding on-court performances during the 2018-19 college basketball season.”
If so, they have a blind spot. No doubt, all four of the finalists are more flashy that McCowan. Three – Ionescu, Durr and Ogunbowale – are guards, who handle the ball more, make plays in the open court and often shoot from longer distances. The fourth – Iowa’s Gustafson is a 6-foot-3 combo forward-center who does affect the game in much the same way as McCowan. Gustafson’s numbers are even better than McCowan’s, but the most important is not. Iowa lost six times. Gustafson does not affect the game as McCowan does. Nobody does.
McCowan is not flashy. She just does the work night after night, much of it dirty work. And she has worked incredibly hard to become the dominator she is. She has changed her body. She has changed her attitude and her work ethic. Vic Schaefer, the State coach, has often said that he has never seen a player progress more in her four college years than has McCowan.
I haven’t either – man or woman.
She may well have deserved to win this award. At the least, she deserved to be a finalist.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.