Player of the Year discussions are always fun. This is especially true in the middle of August when most teams aren’t currently practicing. And when fans are getting ready of the football season to kick off in two weeks.
So, let’s be honest, this article is more for the clicks than anything else. I mean according to some who don’t even follow WAC Hoops Digest on Twitter, that is what this site is all about, anyway.
With that being said, I want to make a few disclaimers.
First, I am not taking into account where I think teams will finish in the WAC standings.
Second, this will be a guard-heavy list because, let’s face it, it’s a guard-heavy league.
Third, these are in no specific order.
Fourth, it’s okay to disagree and be respectful while doing it.
And fifth, I will put out one of these articles once a month before narrowing it down prior to the season openers in November. So, take the lists with a grain of salt for now.
Shall we get to it?
Trey Woodbury – Utah Valley
Let the scorn begin or perhaps the favoritism complaints. Doesn’t matter. At 6-4, 200 pound, Woodbury is one of the most dangerous guards in the WAC. Unfortunately, a knee injury derailed his 2021-22 season. According to his teammate and roommate Fardaws Aimaq, Woodbury was in the best condition of his life last Fall when the injury occurred. If the injury doesn’t occur, Woodbury would have been in the Player of the Year conversation.
But, Woodbury is back for his final season in Orem. If you don’t remember, in 2020-21 Woodbury averaged a team-leading 15.6 points per game, earned All-WAC honors and went off for a career-high 34 points against New Mexico State at the Orleans Arena.
Mark Madsen is going to lean on his senior guard on a guard-heavy squad. Woodbury can finish at the rim and has one of the sweetest pull-up jumpers in the conference. Fans can expect Woodbury to have the ball in his hands late in games. With Justin Harmon back for the Wolverines, this 1-2 punch will be difficult to guard.
#WACvegas | Trey Woodbury is back! @GoUVU leads ACU 32-23 with 5:36 to go in the first half… Watch live on ESPN+ pic.twitter.com/2b0MhqMGto
— The Western Athletic Conference (@WACsports) March 10, 2022
Jovan Blacksher Jr. – Grand Canyon
If you asked most coaches around the WAC which guard they don’t want to face, I’d bet they would most likely say Jovan Blacksher Jr. The junior guard enters his fourth season in a Lopes uniform and he’s just getting better with age.
Blacksher Jr. has started a whopping 85 of 85 games since stepping on campus prior to the 2019-20 season. In that time, GCU has won a share of the WAC regular season crown and the WAC Tournament. What’s even more remarkable is the durability as Blacksher Jr. averages 33.4 minutes per game.
Player of the Year candidate is written all over this crafty guard.
The First Team All-WAC selection led the Lopes in scoring at 15.8 points per game while dishing out a team-high 124 assists. Blacksher Jr. is also GCU’s Division I era steals leader with 139. And Blacksher Jr. also joined the 1,000-point club. In 28 of 31 games in 2021-22, Blacksher Jr. scored in double figures.
Look, the ball is in his hands the most throughout the game. And he is expected to make plays at every available moment. If you haven’t taken the time to appreciate how Jovan Blacksher Jr. plays the game, make sure you watch a GCU game in 2022-23. It’s worth the price of admission.
Tevian Jones – Southern Utah
Type in the word ‘explosive’ and you might pull up Southern Utah guard Tevian Jones. The 6-7 guard from Chandler, Arizona is long, athletic and crazy explosive off the dribble and around the rim. Had it not been for a hand injury late in the season, Jones may have helped lead the T-birds to a Big Sky crown. And perhaps a Player of the Year discussion.
Jones led SUU in scoring in 2021-22 at 14.6 points per game. The scoring actually went down due to the game Jones got injured in March 1 at Montana State. Jones only played 15 minutes and didn’t score a point.
Jones is a member of the 1,000-point club between his time at Illinois and Southern Utah. But it’s the bounce that fans should get excited about. Keep an eye on Jones and his athleticism, especially if SUU is in the mix for a regular season crown.
Tevian Jones glassed him from the rafters! ?@IlliniMBB at Rutgers has been a thriller so far: pic.twitter.com/CEJw5JubuN
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 15, 2020
Cameron Tyson, Riley Grigsby – Seattle U
Okay, so technically I will have six names on this list. And, why not? It is only August and we are here to create some WAC Hoops chatter. But, make no mistake, with Darrion Trammell no longer in the Pacific Northwest, these two guards are going to have big seasons.
There was a lot of excitement surrounding Seattle U basketball last season especially after Cameron Tyson transferred in from Houston. Tyson just added to an experienced roster and, for the most part, lived up to the hype. In one WAC game, Tyson knocked down nine 3-pointers. He was a First-Team All-WAC selection after averaging 14.7 points and 5.2 rebounds and leading the WAC in 3-pointers made (105).
Grigsby was Mr. Reliable for first-year head coach Chris Victor. Third on the team in scoring at 12.8 points, Grigsby, along with Tyson and Trammelle, started in all 31 games for the Redhawks. The 3-point shooting has to be a little better, but don’t let Grigsby get hot as he can knock them down from anywhere, as well.
Both he and Tyson have the green light all the time. And both will have to score even more if the Redhawks are to defend their share of the WAC regular season title in 2022-23.
Justin Johnson – UTRGV
Let me paint a quick picture. Five of the top-6 scorers from the 2021-22 season are gone. Teddy Allen, Fardaws Aimaq, Savion Flagg, Darrion Trammell and Gavin Kensmil all gone. The WAC will once again have a new WAC Player of the Year. Did you know that only two of the top-6 scorers in the WAC shot 50 percent or better? Did you think that UTRGV guard Justin Johnson would be one of those two?
Well, if you said yes, then good for you. But I am sure many did not know that considering UTRGV struggled to an 8-23 overall record and 3-15 finish in WAC play under first-year head coach Matt Figger. Don’t blame that fully on Johnson, though. The Southern Miss transfer averaged 17.7 points per game – fourth in the WAC. And Johnson also led the Vaqueros in rebounding at 6.7 per game while shooting 50.1 percent from the field. Johnson was also second on the team in assists with 72 and led the team in minutes played.
Perhaps the lone knock on Johnson’s game in 2021-22 is the turnover category. Johnson committed a team-high 125 turnovers in 2021-22. But, that could mean a few things including the fact that Matt Figger wants the ball in Johnson’s hands as much as possible. Keep an eye on this athletic 6-6 guard that can play multiple positions. If UTRGV wins more games, Johnson is a Player of the Year candidate.
Justin Johnson doing Justin Johnson things
? https://t.co/bfVeKvHitv#RallyTheValley #UTRGV #WACVegas pic.twitter.com/4za9LbLkEa
— UTRGV Men’s Basketball (@UTRGVmbb) March 9, 2022