February 20, 2007
RALEIGH Early this season, television analyst Len Elmore named off a long list of players when talking about the best freshmen in the ACC this year.
N.C. State's Brandon Costner was never mentioned, despite the fact that he was the leading scorer and rebounder among all ACC rookies at the time.
After Elmore was made aware that Costner was the top freshman scorer and rebounder in the ACC, Elmore stood by his comments and still refused to put Costner in the category of elite rookies.
That would be of little consequence if it were merely one man's opinion. Differences of opinion are a part of ACC basketball, and surely there are valid debates to be had over any number of players this season, freshmen or otherwise.
But the debate over Costner is more complex than that. He is a redshirt freshman. He played in five games in 2005-06, before suffering a season-ending injury (stress fracture in his leg), and was granted a medical redshirt.
That seems to have put him in a different light, image-wise, when the discussion of freshmen starts. Some fans and media remember him as part of the previous recruiting class, so they have in their minds that he's not a rookie. And it is clear that some have chosen to disregard the medical redshirt and refuse to put him in the same category with true freshmen.
In fact, there has been media-room discussion at games around the ACC where some writers including those who will vote on such awards as the coach of the year, player of the year, and rookie of the year have stated that they do not consider Costner to be a legitimate candidate since he's not a true freshman.
State officials have been perplexed throughout the season as to why Costner's accomplishments have not been recognized and appreciated more in the mainstream media. It's nothing they've talked about publicly, and there's nothing they can do about perceptions and subjective votes anyway. But they are curious and a bit apprehensive about the way the rookie of the year and all-freshman voting will turn out.
You can take it to the bank that Costner will not be the rookie of the year, despite averaging what were still freshman-best averages of 16.2 points and 7.8 rebounds through 24 games.
But if there are voters who refuse to acknowledge Costner in the voting, he may not be a lock for the all-freshman team, either, since those spots go to the top five vote-getters. The other top candidates all true freshmen include North Carolina's trio of Brandan Wright, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, Duke's Jon Scheyer, Georgia Tech's Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young, Maryland's Greivis Vasquez and Clemson's Trevor Booker.
The issue is even more interesting in that the ACC recognizes Costner as a freshman and thus eligible for rookie of the week, rookie of the year and all-freshman honors, but he has been conspicuously absent in the weekly awards.
He was named the ACC rookie of the week for the first and only time on Feb. 5, presumably because State beat Virginia Tech and UNC the previous week. Costner wasn't the biggest factor in either of those wins. He had nine points and 11 rebounds against Tech, and a nice 15 and 11 versus the Tar Heels.
Through the first 14 weeks of the award, Wright was the ACC rookie of the week five times, Scheyer twice, and Lawson, Crittenton, Ellington, Booker, Miami's Dwayne Collins and even Wake Forest's Ish Smith once each.
The irony to all of this is that there seems to be a totally different perception of redshirt freshmen in football. Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner was a redshirt freshman in 2006, and he won the ACC rookie of the year award with no reservations. N.C. State's Koren Robinson was the rookie of the year in 1999, after redshirting the previous season.
The issue of transfers and redshirts was addressed and defined by the ACC years ago, making redshirts eligible in the voting. But no redshirt freshman or medical-hardship freshman ever has received any postseason recognition in basketball. The ACC rookie of the year has been selected since 1986. The all-freshman team started in 1993. Several players who went to a fifth year of high school or prep school have been on the all-freshman team.
POSTSEASON SHUTOUT IS POSSIBLE
It's safe to say that if Costner doesn't make the all-freshman team, State could get shut out in the postseason awards.
After State beat Tech and Carolina, there was an element that was pushing Sidney Lowe for ACC coach of the year consideration, if State could close its season strong. But State went south again quickly and may wind up exactly where it was picked in the preseason, last place.
State fans will go into the offseason feeling good about the direction of the program, and feeling good about having Lowe as their coach. And Lowe has done a solid job, given what he's been up against with so much youth, little depth, and the injury to point guard Engin Atsur. But this has not been an ACC coach of the year job, by any stretch of the imagination.
The only awards State might be worthy of are some that aren't given or recognized by the ACC.
You could make a case for Ben McCauley as the ACC's most improved player. He has had the biggest increase in production from last season to this season of any ACC player so far. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.0 rebound in 27 games last year, averaging 6.9 minutes. This year, he has averaged 16.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists with little backup. He's averaging 36.1 minutes, out of 40. Of course, there is no most improved player award, although McCauley likely will get some support (and he deserves it) for second-team All-ACC.
You could make a case for Atsur as the ACC's unluckiest player, or the most frustrated player. He missed 12 games because of hamstring problems and has had to be careful even after returning, and he still isn't back to full speed with the season winding down. Atsur is a four-year starter, this was supposed to be his year to stand out, and instead it has been full of disappointment. Again, though, the ACC doesn't give those awards.
Finally, you could make a case for Gavin Grant as the ACC's most enigmatic player. He has decent numbers, including 15.1 points per game through 24 games, but that has been a mixture of good nights and horrific moments that have left everyone perplexed. Part of that is because he was thrust into a role he wasn't suited to play when Atsur was hurt, but it goes beyond that.
Fortunately, in this case, the ACC doesn't give a most enigmatic player award, either.