Saturday, February 18, 2012

Top Honor Likely Won't Go To Freshmen

When Iona's Damika Martinez poured in a career-high 34 points in her team's loss Friday against Rider, the 5-foot-7 freshman guard took a commanding lead in the race to be the league's top scorer in women's play this season.

The dynamic Martinez now averages 16.5 points per game nearly a full point ahead of the MAAC's second-leading scorer, Siena's junior post player Lily Grenci (15.6 ppg.).

If Martinez holds on, she will become the first freshmen to lead the women's conference in scoring in the MAAC's 31-year history.

Martinez also ranks fourth nationally among all freshmen in scoring, and her strong season to date is just one of several strong campaigns by first-year players in the MAAC.

On the men's side Niagara's 6-3 freshman guard Juan'ya Green averages 17.1 points per game and is the second-leading scorer among freshmen nationally.

And while Martinez is all but a shoe-in to be the women's Rookie of the Year in the league, Green's grasp on that award isn't quite as strong.

It looks like two other players will get consideration as the top freshman, including one of his own teammates.

That would be Niagara's 6-3 freshman Antoine Mason (15.0 points, 4.6 rebounds per game) although Mason isn't a true freshman. He did play three games a year ago before foot injuries kept him out the rest of the way and a medical-redshirt enabled him to remain a freshman, in terms of eligibility this season.

The other prime contender for Rookie of the Year honors for men is Siena's 5-8 guard Evan Hymes, literally an afterthought as a recruit who only started to draw interest from the Saints' coaching staff when another player (Jonathan Breeden) left the program last May and the need for a back-up point guard was created.

Hymes' role was expected to be as a lightly used reserve backing up expected starter Rakeem Brookins. But when Brookins was lost for the year with a back issue just prior to the start of regular-season play Hymes was thrust into the starting lineup and has thrived.

He averages 14.3 points per game and his 37.3 minutes-per-game average is 10th-best nationally.

For now, though, the spectacular seasons of Niagara's Green and Iona's Martinez would appear to make them the front-runners for top rookie honors.

And, then, the question becomes how coaches rate them for overall post-season honors.

The very strong guess is that neither will be a first-team all-star selection, although a strong case can be made for both.

But, coaches (who vote for award winners) almost universally discard freshmen from consideration for that particular honor.

In the previous 30 seasons, only Lionel Simmons of La Salle (1986-87) has been a first-team MAAC all-star as a freshman. And, all Simmons did in his career was score 3,217 points, still the third-highest career total of all Division I players ever.

Amazingly, the league also produced a player who ranks No. 6 on the all-time Division I career scoring list, and he was left off the league's first team of all stars as a freshman.

That was Saint Peter's Keydren Clark, who not only led the conference in scoring (24.9 points per game) as a freshman in the 2002-03 season, but was sixth nationally among all Division I players that season.

Imagine a MAAC player leading the league in scoring and ranking sixth nationally in that statistic and not honored as a first-team all star? But, it happened.

On the women's side, there has never been a freshman named a first-team all star.

The closest was former Marist standout Rachele Fitz in 2006-07 who was a second-team pick. That season she averaged 14.9 points per game and finished fifth overall in the scoring race. Her point-per-game average, until now, is the highest ever by a freshman women's player.

But, neither Fitz nor Clark were first-team all-star selections as players.

Which doesn't leave a lot of hope for Martinez or Green to join Simmons as the only freshman in the league's past 30 seasons to be named to the MAAC's top all-star squad.

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