ATLANTA — Wisconsin senior Frank Kaminsky, Kentucky junior Willie Cauley-Stein, Notre Dame junior Jerian Grant and Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor have emerged as the remaining candidates vying for the Naismith Trophy presented by AT&T, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Thursday. Should Kaminsky win, he’ll become the sixth Big Ten player to earn the honors, and the third in six years, following Trey Burke of Michigan (2013) and Ohio State’s Evan Turner (2010).
The four finalists were chosen by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s national voting academy, which based selections on individual performances throughout the 2014-15 men’s college basketball regular season. The winner of the Naismith Trophy Men’s College Player of the Year Trophy presented by AT&T will be revealed April 5, 2015, in Indianapolis.
For the 11th consecutive year, fans will have the opportunity to vote for the player of their choice and help determine the 2015 Naismith Trophy winner. Beginning March 23 and running through April 4 fans can cast their vote through the online and mobile optimized site www.NaismithVote.com. The fan vote represents 25 percent of the selection process — the largest fan impact of any collegiate basketball award. The vote was tabulated and certified by the accounting firm of Habif, Arogeti& Wynne, LLP. HA&W is the largest independent accounting firm in Georgia and one of the top 50 firms in the United States.
“We have four tremendously talented individuals playing key roles for their highly successful teams, so we believe that any of the finalists are worthy and deserving of the Naismith Trophy,” said Eric Oberman, Atlanta Tipoff Club executive director.
“Along with the Atlanta Tipoff Club, we’re thrilled to honor this year’s group of talented finalists,” said Mark Collins, senior vice president, Sales and Service Operations, AT&T Mobility. “Now, we’re counting on the fans to mobilize their voting power to help choose the men’s college basketball player of the year.”
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: He led the team in scoring at nearly 17 points per game, while dishing out a league-high 6.6 assists this season. He was named All-ACC first-team. Grant was named the ACC tournament’s Most Valuable Player and finished second in voting as the ACC Player of the Year. He leads the third-seeded Irish (29-5) against Northeastern in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Despite being part of Kentucky’s platoon system, Cauley-Stein was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a member of the ALL-SEC first-team, and the SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player. He led UK in steals (44) while ranking second in blocked shots, and averaged 9.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Earlier this season, CauleyStein became the first player in school history to collect 200 or more career blocks and 100 or more career steals. Kentucky is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and is slotted in the Midwest Region.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: He leads the Badgers in scoring (18.2), rebounds (8.0), assists (90), blocks (52) and steals (30), while being named the Big Ten Player of the Year. He helped lead the team to both the conference regular-season and tournament championships. Kaminsky is shooting a team-best 55.3 percent this season and ranks third on the team for 3-point shooting at 39.5 percent. He has scored in double figures in 27 straight games and 32 out of 33 games played this season. He has eclipsed the 20-point mark in 10 of UW’s last 18 games and a total of 13 times on the season. Wisconsin is the No. 1 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Okafor, a finalist for the 2014 Naismith High School Trophy, is averaging 17.7 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 66.9 percent this season. He was named ACC Player of the Year, becoming the first freshman to win such an honor in conference history, and also the national freshman of the year. Okafor currently leads the conference in offensive rebounding (3.91 orpg.) and field goal percentage (.669) and sits second in points per game (17.7 ppg.). Okafor’s 66.9 percent field goal percentage also ranks second in the nation. The Blue Devils open the NCAA Tournament as the top seed in the South Region.
Other notable Naismith Trophy alumni include a pair of three-time winners in Bill Walton (1972, ‘73, ‘74) and Ralph Sampson (1981, ‘82, ‘83), Michael Jordan (1984), Kevin Durant (2007) and last year’s winner, Doug McDermott, of Creighton. The Naismith Trophy Men’s College Player of the Year presented by AT&T is the most prestigious national award presented annually to college basketball’s best player.