Toughness is one quality, above all, that a coach values in a player. I hear it all the time. Coaches admire and respect tough players, whether it is one of their players or an opposing player. Toughness is talked about and emphasized, and toughness wins. I have written about the definition of true toughness in the past, and its importance in the game.
Yet, despite the constant emphasis on toughness, there is no measure of it, and no award to recognize it in players. We have awards for valuable players, improved players, point guards, rookies, newcomers and players who happen only to begin games on the bench. We have awards based upon the calendar and league affiliation, and we even have mythical awards for players who remind us of an adhesive used for sticking materials together. No coach goes on the recruiting trail to find a good epoxy, paste or other sticky, gelatinous substance. Coaches want tough players, guys who can endure great strain without breaking, and are strong and resilient.
Still, we have no award or specific recognition for toughness. Well, those days are over. This season, The Bilastrator, fresh off of the stunning innovation and invention of The Bilas Index, has turned his attention to recognizing toughness in the college game, the characteristic in a player that is most valued and cherished by coaches and players alike. So, we hereby introduce the All-Toughness team, a periodic recognition of the true tough guys in the game. In this first installment, the following 10 players have stood out as some of the toughest customers in the early-season games.
And, at the close of the season, the Bilastrator will name the All-Toughness team for the season. If you have suggestions for consideration for the All-Toughness team, feel free to bring them to our attention.)
Roosevelt Jones, Butler Bulldogs: Jones is only 6-foot-4, but he plays bigger. He's built like a linebacker and is unafraid to assert himself in big games. He plays on both ends, fights you on every play, and is as strong a driver of the ball as I have seen this season. Jones is not a shooter, yet he is still able to drive it. He attacks the offensive glass and plays his tail off. Against Indiana, Jones scored 16 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished 7 assists and was the toughest player on the floor.
Doug McDermott, Creighton Bluejays: McDermott reminds me of former Georgia Tech star Matt Harpring. He has worked hard on his handle and perimeter shot, and it has paid off. Talented and skilled, McDermott does not allow opponents to speed him up, and he can take you outside or post you. And he does not force anything or require volume shots to score volume points. Against Akron and California, McDermott averaged 32 points and 7.5 rebounds, hitting 20-of-32 from the field (including 10-of-15 from 3-point range) and 14-of-15 from the free-throw line.
McDermott is tough enough to make the right reads, accept that he's being guarded physically and keep his head, not allow himself to be sped up, and not get into personal battles. He accepts the challenge of being the best player, yet does the dirty work and is a great teammate. As the defense works harder to stop him, he works even harder. His versatility wasn't born in him. He has worked at it. That's toughness, too.
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh Mountain Hawks: McCollum could play anywhere. He is a pure scorer who has improved from last season to this season, and he is a willing defender. For a scorer like McCollum, it would be easy to simply put up points and let your teammates defend. Instead, McCollum is the best defender in his league. He averages 25 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game, and his shooting numbers are truly impressive. McCollum shoots 51 percent from the floor, 52 percent from deep and 83 percent from the line.
Ed Daniel, Murray State Racers: I loved watching Daniel at the Nike Skills Academies this summer. He outworked every big man he played against. Daniel is a hard-hat worker who doesn't complain, and just gets the job done. He is putting up 17 points per game, up from 6.8 last season, but he is also puling down 11.7 rebounds per game, including 15 boards (in each game) against Evansville and Old Dominion, and 18 against Lipscomb. Love the hair, too. Strong.
Laurence Bowers, Missouri Tigers: Bowers is resilient, fighting back from an ACL tear last season and coming back even stronger. He has been aggressive, has scored at a higher rate (averaging 16 points per game) and his shooting percentages have been the best in his career. Best of all, Bowers will guard people, and can guard anyone from the point guard to the back-to-the-basket post player. His versatility and toughness makes it tough for Frank Haith to take him out, and only Phil Pressey has played more minutes for Mizzou.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State Buckeyes: Nobody works any harder on both ends than Craft, and nobody affects the game without scoring more than Craft does. On the ball, Craft is really difficult to play against, and he goes after every ball as if his life depends upon it. Craft rarely turns the ball over, and has more defensive will than any other guard in the nation. Craft has struggled with his shooting and scoring this season (including a 3-of-15 performance against Duke), but hasn't let his defense slip one bit.
Treveon Graham, Virginia Commonwealth Rams: Graham is one of the nation's best all-around players, and he's still getting better. If he's needed to play big minutes, he plays big in them. If he's needed to guard a big forward when VCU goes small, he does it and does it well. If he needs to guard a smaller guard, he does it. He can score, yet doesn't force it. He can rebound, he can drive it, and he can shoot it from deep or pull up. Graham averages 14.5 points and 5.5 rebounds, but his value and ability go far beyond his stats.
Mason Plumlee, Duke Blue Devils: Plumlee has always been an exceptional athlete, but not always an exceptional basketball player from a skills and execution standpoint. He has struggled mightily with his shooting, especially from the free throw line, yet he showed great toughness in facing his weaknesses and working through them. Plumlee has been a leader, and has served as an anchor both emotionally and in terms of productivity. Every game, Plumlee has shown great consistency at a high level. He has been the toughest big man in the country to this point in the season.
Richard Howell, North Carolina State Wolfpack: The Wolfpack big man has struggled with some questionable fouls that have taken away some minutes, but when he's on the floor, he is a beast on the backboards. Howell is an outstanding offensive rebounder who is averaging over 14 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. He doesn't take plays off, and he is productive without plays having to be called for him. In his past four games, Howell has pulled down 51 rebounds, and has four straight double-doubles, with six on the season.
Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State Aztecs: Franklin has always been a fighter and emotional, but he has channeled everything in a positive direction this season. Averaging 19 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per game, Franklin's productivity is up in almost every category. Best of all, he attacks and is unyielding in looking to score and exploit a matchup. Few wings play through contact as well as Franklin, and few are as relentless.