NEW YORK -- On Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, the Big East announced its Co-Players of the Year: UConn's Hasheem Thabeet and Pitt's DeJuan Blair. I recall being in a press conference at Louisville's Freedom Hall last month, after the Huskies had blitzed the Cardinals, and Jim Calhoun -- before making his initial case for Thabeet -- said that the league's POY "should come from the first- or second-place team, unless you can't find one." UConn and Pitt finished tied for second in the Big East at 15-3, so Thabeet and Blair were acceptable picks by Calhoun's rules. But what one can logically infer from the coaches' voting is they could not find a reasonable candidate from the league's No. 1 team, Louisville.
There had to be some reason, though, that the Cardinals managed to finish 16-2 in the nation's toughest league despite having neither dominant inside player nor a dominant scoring guard. The reason is Terrence Williams, the point forward whom I profiled in this week's SI (under the cover header of The Best Player On The Best Team That No One Is Thinking About ... a teaser that was written before the POY awards came out, but now seems appropriate.)
Williams' points (12.8 per game) and rebounds (8.5) don't jump off the page, but when you consider the fact that he's also third in the Big East in assists (at 5.1 per game, with a 2.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio), second in the league in steals (at 2.3), and takes on the burden of initiating most of Louisville's offensive production, it's difficult not to consider him as a legitimate first-team All-America candidate. As you'll find in the story, T-Will puts such an emphasis on being a unique player that his statistical balance is almost deliberate. "If I just try to score a lot of points," he told me, "I'll fall into the class of Stephen Curry and everybody else trying to score. If I try just to get rebounds, I'll fall in the class of Blake Griffin, and [Luke Harangody] and everyone else. So why not try to be different by doing every single thing?"
Hopefully T-Will can take solace in the fact that he -- and not Blair or Thabeet -- has pulled off the rare feat of appearing on two SI covers in two weeks:
One of the topics that didn't get covered in the story (which was more about the point-forward concept) was Williams' sneaker obsession. I checked out the room he shares with senior Andre McGee in Billy Minardi Hall, the basketball players' on-campus dorm, and the entire space (seen in the photo below) not taken up by T-Will's bed and dresser is occupied by shoe boxes. He estimated he had about 140 pairs sitting in there, the most valuable of which was a limited-edition pair of Jordan XIs.
The strange thing, I thought, was that he bought a number of the pairs in size 14, when he wears either a 12 or a 13 on the basketball court. This was apparently deliberate. "I buy 14s," T-Will explained, "to make sure I won't wear them."
After the Cardinals' penultimate home game, against Marquette on March 1, Williams removed his game shoes -- he has to wear Adidas, due to the school's official apparel deal -- signed them, and threw them into the crowd. I asked him if he was planning to take the rest of the shoes with him when he moved on to the NBA, and he said no. "When I'm getting ready to leave here, I'll probably give them all away." The line outside his door starts now.