College Basketball: Hearts of Champions

February 17th, 2007

No sport showcases emotions quite like college basketball. From the excitement in November as fans clamor about this being “their year”, to the tears that flow so easily in March as players realize their season is over, emotions make college basketball what it is.

Every year, there are players who embody the very essence of college hoops with their play, attitude and spirit. Who can forget feisty Duke point guard Steve Wojciechowski slapping the floor on defense, showing the type of unbridled passion that any fan can respect? Or what about seeing Adam Morrison, a cold-hearted assassin much of the season, with tears streaming down his face in the Sweet Sixteen last year?

Following is a list of guys who embody that same spirit, and show their love of the game with how they approach every second on the floor. This isn’t necessarily a list of the best players in the country, but rather players that every true fan, regardless of team affiliation, can enjoy watching.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis – Jr. LSU

Very few players seem to enjoy themselves throughout a game as much as the gregarious Davis, the reigning SEC Player of the Year. His trademark smile has endeared him to a national audience, all of whom love to see someone having fun doing what they love to do. However, his smile and enthusiasm wouldn’t mean much if he didn’t have the game behind it. Last year, Davis averaged almost 19 point per game, and led the Tigers to their first Final Four since 1986. Rather than congratulate himself, Davis went to work and lost close to 40 pounds over the summer, showing his dedication to becoming a great player. This year, a slimmed down Davis is again wreaking havoc on opponents, putting up 17.9 ppg and 10.7 rpg through Feb. 14.. The Tigers have met some ups and downs this year as they navigate a tough schedule, but the one constant fans can count on is that Big Baby is going to come to play every night.

Jared Dudley – Sr. Boston College

Few players in the country maximize their talent like Dudley, an under-recruited, un- heralded, undersized forward. The 6’7 senior out of San Diego was a real find for Al Skinner, and he has led Boston College to 77 wins in his first three years.. His defensive intensity and versatility served as the perfect compliment to Craig Smith for three years, as the Eagles became known for their scrappy, feisty style of play. With Smith gone, Dudley has added scoring to his resume, and is putting up 20 points per game, along with nine boards. Dudley’s game may not be pretty, but few can argue its effectiveness. With the recent suspension of Sean Williams, Dudley is now shouldering as big a load for his team as any player in the country on both ends of the floor.

Tyler Hansbrough – So. North Carolina

The aptly nicknamed “Psycho T” is an absolute nightmare for opponents. Hansbrough possesses a motor that simply never quits. Whether its battling for position, going after a rebound, running the court on a fast break, or diving on the floor for a loose ball, he never goes less than 100 percent. As a true freshman, he led the young Tar Heels in scoring and rebounding, including a Dean Smith Center and UNC freshman record 40 points against Georgia Tech. Despite the influx of young talent in Chapel Hill this year, Hansbrough is still the heartbeat of the team, putting up just over 18 points per game. Hansbrough may not be the most physically skilled post player in the country, but he will never be outworked or out-hustled, and that’s something any fan can love.

Tre Kelley – Sr. South Carolina

Kelley may look slightly out of place on this list of players who will likely help fill out the All-American teams at the end of the season. However, anyone who has watched a South Carolina game this season knows how hard Kelley competes every night. With an inconsistent and underachieving cast around him, Kelley has been forced to carry the Gamecocks, often appearing to be the only one on the floor showing any emotion. The undersized senior leads the Gamecocks in scoring and assists, and is third in rebounding, all while playing close to 36 minutes per game. With South Carolina struggling, Kelley may not earn many accolades this season, but he will never leave fans feeling like they were short-changed.

Joakim Noah – So. Florida

What can be said about Noah that hasn’t already been said? There may not be a player anywhere who plays with the emotion that Noah displays on a nightly basis. From his primal screams to his chest bumps to his towel-waving when he’s out of the game, Noah is often the most visible person on the court, and not just because of his ponytail. Noah’s passion for winning and competing is easy to see every time he steps on the floor, and he was the face of the 2006 Gator squad that stunned the country by winning the national championship. His stats, although good, don’t begin to tell of his impact on a game. Noah is a leader on the floor, and he has the Gators eyeing another deep tournament run. Although he has become a target of opposing student sections in the SEC for his effervescent personality, you would be hard-pressed to find a coach anywhere who wouldn’t take Noah on his team in a heartbeat.

Obviously, there are other players who could easily make the list, including Jon Brockman (Washington), Drew Neitzel (Michigan State), Alando Tucker (Wisconsin), Darren Collison (UCLA), D.J. White (Indiana), and a whole host of players who simply give everything they have every time they step on the court. Some of them may never become All-Americans, and many may never cash an NBA paycheck, but they still are the reason college basketball is so much fun to watch.