Kilpatrick Aims For Bigger Prize

In 1941, Ted Williams batted .406 with 37 HR, 120 RBI, and the 7th best OPS in MLB history (1.2875).  It’s been 73 years and no major league player has batted .400 since.

That year he was not the American League MVP.  Some guy named DiMaggio had a pretty good season too, including a 56-game hitting streak.  Furthermore, the Yankees finished 17 games ahead of the Red Sox in the American League standings.

When I attended the AAC awards event on Wednesday in Memphis, I never really considered the possibility that Sean Kilpatrick would not be named Player of the Year.

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Mick Cronin won Coach of the Year and Justin Jackson was named Defensive Player of the Year, but the mood at our table was subdued because Shabazz Napier of UConn received the league’s top individual honor instead of Kilpatrick.

“Shabazz is a great player and had a great year,” said Cronin.  “I just thought with us winning the conference it should have been a no-brainer.

“I’d trade Coach of the Year for him to win Player of the Year in a heartbeat.”

“Shabazz Napier is my guy so I’m not really mad, but I feel like SK should have won the award,” said Jackson.  “Before the season, we were picked to be the number four team in the league and now we’re the number one seed.  SK is the biggest reason.”

In fairness to Napier, his all-around stats are worthy of MVP.  While Kilpatrick averaged 20.9 points to Napier’s 17.8, Shabazz topped SK in rebounds and assists and had a slight edge in shooting percentage.

“The Player of the Year award is in great hands with him,” said Kilpatrick.  “He’s a great player.”

But like Coach Cronin, I thought that Cincinnati’s share of the American Conference title would be the difference in Kilpatrick’s favor when voting for MVP.

Kilpatrick did not hide his disappointment or his desire to use it for added fuel.

“It’s going to be 20 times harder for other teams now,” he told reporters.

“We’re very similar – we use any motivation we can get to drive ourselves,” said Cronin.  “I think the greatest competitor of all-time Michael Jordan did that.  So in a way, I hope he uses it to push himself even further here in March.”

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Ironically, one of Napier’s former teammates did that three years ago.  BYU’s Jimmer Fredette won the national Player of the Year awards, but UConn’s Kemba Walker earned a greater prize by carrying the Huskies to an NCAA title.

“My message to SK is:  With all due respect to these awards, I’d like to be standing on a podium in Dallas in April next to him,” said Cronin.  “And if he’s MVP of something, he wants it to be the NCAA Tournament.

“You become a legend by what you do in March.  That’s been my message to the guys all year.  We have a lot of former players that come around and I said, ‘Do you ever notice which guys come around the most?’  I make them name names and after they do I say, ‘You do notice that most of those guys played in the Final Four.’  If you want to be remembered for a lifetime, you play on a Final Four team.  A National Championship team would be even better.  That’s what it’s all about.”

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