SI's Midseason Player of the Year is an inspiration to underestimated younger siblings everywhere: In 2006, when former Ohio State forward J.J. Sullinger first recommended that his middle-school-aged brother be recruited by the Buckeyes, an incredulous Thad Matta replied, "Fat Jared?"
That same kid evolved into a McDonald's All-American and arrived on campus this fall at a bullish 6' 9" and 280 pounds. "Early in practice," Matta says, "[Sullinger] was showing signs that he could really score around the basket"—so well that the OSU coach restructured its offense around him in the post despite having four upperclassmen in the starting lineup. Sullinger has rewarded Matta by averaging 18.1 points and 10.2 rebounds and leading the Buckeyes to a 16--0 record and a No. 2 ranking—which is why Sullinger edges out UConn scoring machine Kemba Walker as the nation's most impressive player. Here is the rest of SI's half-season award team.
NBA Stock Booster: DeMetri McCamey, G, Illinois. With a looming lockout that could keep some underclassmen out of the draft, no senior has done more to enhance his portfolio than the Illini's sturdy point guard, who is averaging career highs in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.58:1) and three-point percentage (54.3). He was mostly ignored when he tested the draft waters as a junior, but one league scout says McCamey has morphed into a "lite" version of Illinois alum and NBA All-Star Deron Williams.
Mr. Productivity: Arsalan Kazemi, F, Rice. The 6' 7" sophomore is a box score monster who is No. 1 nationally in free throw rate (with 154 free throw attempts compared with 134 field goal attempts) and No. 5 in defensive-rebounding percentage (29.1) for the 8--8 Owls. "Arsalan is just really active," says Ben Braun, for whom Kazemi is averaging 17.9 points and 11.5 boards.
Unsung Hero: Jackson Emery, G, BYU. While the nation knows Jimmer (Fredette, the prolific scorer and Wooden Award candidate), Cougars fans know that Emery is a three-point threat who leads Mountain West players in steals per game (2.8). BYU wouldn't be No. 11 in the AP poll without Emery's complementing Fredette's skill set in the backcourt.
Iceman to Cometh: Marcus Denmon, G, Missouri. Coach Mike Anderson gives his junior two-guard the green light from almost any distance, in part because Denmon is one of the few high-volume shooters who makes nearly half of his threes. (He had hit 44 of 90 through Sunday.) The Tigers' braided bomber is also fearless in white-knuckle situations, making big shots in overtime thrillers against Georgetown and Vanderbilt. Denmon is clutch—but really, which one of SI's midseason five wouldn't you trust with the game on the line?
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Photograph by FRED VUICH
FAT CHANCE Matta once saw little future for Sullinger (far left), who has since developed into a well-rounded post force.