Wooden Watch — Who are the early favorites for the 2022 Wooden Award?

week is the John R. Wooden 2021, and Saturday’s Final Four has two finalists. Gonzaga star Corey Kispert and Baylor’s Jared Butler were among the five finalists, as were Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, Illinois State’s Ayo Dosunmu and Iowa State’s Luca Garza. Once the winners are announced, it’s time to evaluate the first-place winners of the 2022 contest. But ESPN’s panel of college basketball experts – Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Joe Lunardi – couldn’t wait that long:

John R. Wooden will be honored next week, while Iowa State’s Luca Garza and Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham are on the verge of promotion. Looking ahead to next season – and given that there are still NBA drafts and draft decisions to be made – name a few players you think we’ll be talking about this time next year for Wooden’s 2022 season.

Medcalf: Any momentum a player can generate is always useful in a Wooden Award race. And I think Chet Holmgren is going to take the country by storm. His size, length and energy are a rare combination for a rookie. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a strong candidate.

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I also wonder what will happen to a few players this weekend. Quentin Grimes and Johnny Joosang can boost their NBA stock with a big performance or two in Indianapolis. But if those two come back, they’ll be at the top of the preseason list. I think one of the most interesting names is Marcus Carr (19.4 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.0 RPG). He announced his intention to transfer from Minnesota after Richard Pitino was fired last month. He’s a great player who can put up big numbers if he finds the right landing spot – assuming he doesn’t enter the NBA draft and becomes a professional player.

Borzello: Based on our NBA Draft rankings and early inclusion in the overall rankings, I think there’s a chance Drew Timm returns to college – although that’s now less likely after his win over Evan Mobley in the Elite Eight. But if he returns to Spokane for another season, Timmy will be a favorite for the Wooden Award. He was arguably the best frontcourt player in college basketball this season, with the exception of Luca Garza, and he has been elevated to the next level in the NCAA Tournament.



Chet Holmgren, the No. 1 player in ESPN’s Top 100 Class of 2021, shows off his handles during a side-by-side match against YPSI Prep.

If Tim’s performance in the tournament has put him in the draft discussion and he leaves after this season, a few other names I would keep an eye on next season are Hunter Dickinson of Michigan, E.J. Liddell of Ohio State – and maybe even Collin Gillespie of Villanova. Of the newcomers, Chet Holmgren is the easiest choice, although Gonzaga is his favorite. Timm and Holmgren will have a hard time winning the Wooden Award. I think Paolo Banchero, who signed with Duke, is the most college-ready prospect in the class, and I think he will be very productive from day one in Durham.

Gasaway: This is really the first year where we can honestly anticipate that answer by saying we can’t know, right? Everyone gets an extra selection year, the transfer portal is overflowing, and the coaching carousel is busier than it has been in years. Everything we have planned for early April may get swallowed up by events, but here’s what we’re going to do.



Jared Butler goes to the basket with a spin move to beat the Texas Tech defenders.

I’m limiting myself to players who are not in the top 30 of ESPN’s current NBA Draft rankings. On that basis, we have 2021 First Team All-American Jared Butler, who may or may not decide to return for his senior season. On the second team, welcome Drew Timm, Hunter Dickinson and Kofi Cockburn. If current Americans are any indication, you would think that Quentin Grimes, Trevion Williams, Derek Culver, Scottie Pippen Jr, Keev Aluma or Jeremiah Robinson-Earl could be on the list of possible candidates. Some of these guys are leaving, and of course they’re all veterans. In April, I welcome Jeff Borzello as the new advisor for first-year students.

Lunardi: Leave it to my esteemed colleagues to talk about the incoming group of freshmen, and it’s likely that the next true returners will be the nominees for the Wooden Award for 2021-22 (in alphabetical order): Kevi Aluma (Virginia Tech), Derek Culver (West Virginia), Kendrick Davis (SMU), Hunter Dickinson (Michigan), David Duke (Providence), Nahshon Hyland (VCU), Osun Osunney (St. Bonaventure) and Scottie Pippen Jr. (Vanderbilt). Dickinson will rightfully get a lot of attention when he returns, but you heard first that Bones Hyland will be the most explosive returner in the country.

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