On the night of March 5, the Colonial Athletic Association handed out its annual end-of-season men’s basketball awards. Players were recognized for their accomplishments between the beginning of January and the beginning of March, a hectic two months of missed jump shots and spectacular finishes. It was, by all accounts, an excellent conference slate.
But in a souring twist of events on the final day before the postseason began, the CAA handed out its most important award to the wrong player.
It wasn’t a presentation error. The conference announced the name of the winner on its website at 7 p.m., on schedule. The player who had received the most votes for the conference’s player of the year award was named the victor. The conference itself did everything right.
It’s just that the wrong player won the award.
The College of William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton, a senior guard who became his school’s all-time leading scorer with just a shovelful of games left in his illustrious four-year career, was named the conference player of the year. He averaged 19.4 points per game, shot over 40 percent from behind the three-point arc and knocked down more than 80 percent of his free throws.
So how could this be the wrong recipient of the award?
If it sounds like the kid had a great season, it’s because he absolutely did. Marcus Thornton is one of the best, most exhilarating players in conference history.
But he was, in nearly every facet of the game, second fiddle to Drexel University’s Damion Lee.
Lee was named to the CAA’s first team, an honor in and of itself. He was recognized as the league’s second-best player, receiving 19 votes for the award that Thornton won with 21 votes. Next year, Lee, still a junior, will be the conference’s preseason Player of the Year.
The problem is, he deserves the real thing. And he deserved it this year.
On a team far inferior to Thornton’s Tribe, Lee averaged 21.4 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game and 2.3 assists per game.
Lee led the conference in scoring as the only true scoring threat on his team, leading to opposing squads circling him in scouting reports and refusing to give him anything other than a contested look from the floor.
Thornton’s team was outfitted with a slew of scorers, from the ever-versatile Terry Tarpey to the sharpshooting Omar Prewitt.
To counter, Lee had Tavon Allen, who shot a paltry 31.5 percent from the field this season.
Lee shot 43.8 percent from the field, knocked down 38.5 percent of his three-pointers and buried nearly 89 percent of his free throws. Lee racked up a 28.15 Player Efficiency Rating, which takes into account each facet of a player’s offensive game and comes up with a final value. His PER was tops in the conference.
Thornton’s PER of 20.22 was ninth in the CAA. It wasn’t even the best rating on his team.
And for those basketball fans who enjoy a well-rounded basketball player, one who competes on both ends of the court, Lee was there as Thornton wasn’t. Lee was named to the conference’s all-defensive team, a defender with length and quick lateral movement and a sharp adherence to defense.
So how, you might ask, could the voters get this one wrong? The statistics seem indomitable, and as we all know, numbers don’t lie.
Well, there’s always the wild card of whimsy. There’s always the sneaking sentimentality. And you can never count out the nagging narrative.
For starters, Thornton is a senior and Lee is a junior. This was Thornton’s final chance to win this award. Barring a cataclysmic collection of events next season, Lee will win it next year.
Advantage Thornton, in the never-important but oft-considered category of seniority.
And possibly more importantly, Thornton’s team has never been to the NCAA tournament, but he sits poised to take the Tribe there for the first time in school history. Lee never stood a chance because of the players he found himself surrounded with this season.
Advantage Thornton, in the history-making category of the narrative.
In the end, here is no arguing that Marcus Thornton is a spectacular player. He is one of the best opposing players most Drexel fans will ever watch walk through the Daskalakis Athletic Center. He attracted a half-dozen NBA scouts in January, when he and the Tribe shredded the Dragons.
But, at least this year, he was no Damion Lee.