It is a most exclusive fraternity of only 75 men, and contrary to original plans, there will be no addition to the membership roll this weekend.
Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. When it came time for the sun to shine on their teams, the brightest ray of all was upon them. And not all were stars of national champions, headed for NBA stardom. It is, in fact, an eclectic bag of basketball souls, the MOP Club. For instance . . .
The first, Ohio State’s Jimmy Hull in 1939, ended up a renowned dentist. The Buckeyes didn’t even win the inaugural NCAA tournament. Oregon did.
In 1942, Howie Dallmar led Stanford to the championship, then headed for military service in the East. When that was done, he just stayed and attended Penn. How many MOPs at one school end up helping another to an Ivy League title? Later, he would be head coach at both his old schools.
Wyoming’s Kenny Sailors had pioneered the jump shot when he was MOP in 1943. He came up with the new-fangled idea as a way to get the ball over his taller brother in family games in the backyard.
Arnie Ferrin won it for Utah as a freshman in 1944. Forty-four years later, he was chair of the NCAA selection committee for the 1988 tournament. At the age of 94, he is the oldest living MOP.
Bob Kurland, a seven-footer, became the first repeat MOP in 1945-46, for Oklahoma State. He made an even more notable contribution to the game in 1944 in a game against Temple. He was under the basket trying to score, so he just leaped in the air and . . . and . . . legend has it, rammed home college basketball’s first official slam dunk.
In 1952, there was Kansas’ Clyde Lovellette, who became the first man to play for NCAA, NBA and Olympic championship teams. He was such a constant presence for Kansas that the Jayhawk playing behind him – a sophomore named B.H. Born – could only get enough court time to average 1.6 points a game.
The next season, in 1953, Lovellette was gone, and Born won the MOP, even though Kansas lost in the title game to Indiana. But he had 26 points, 15 rebounds and 13 blocked shots – the first unofficial triple-double in Final Four history – so who’s to quibble because his team finished second?
Tom Gola went from 1954 MOP for La Salle to the NBA, to eventually the Pennsylvania State House.
Bill Russell went from 1955 MOP for San Francisco to 11 NBA championships for the Boston Celtics. He’s 86 now, the second oldest living award winner.
San Francisco repeated as champions in 1956, but Russell didn’t get the award, never mind his 26 points and 27 rebounds in the title game against Iowa. That wasn’t good enough? No, Temple’s Hal Lear turned enough heads by scoring 48 points in the third place game.
But then, picking the MOP off non-championship teams was the rage back then. Starting with Born, nine of the next 14 men to get the award played for teams that lost in the Final Four.
That included a gaggle of future NBA legends. A tall fellow named Wilt Chamberlain won it for Kansas in 1957. Former high school dropout Elgin Baylor for Seattle in 1958. State hero Jerry West for West Virginia in 1959.
Jerry Lucas was MOP for Ohio State when the Buckeyes were national champions in 1960, and won it again when they lost to Cincinnati in 1961. Others might forget that, but Lucas won’t. He remembers everything. Famed for his photographic memory – he once wowed a TV audience by learning pages of the Manhattan phone book – he became an author of memory training books after his NBA days.
Cincinnati’s Paul Hogue, who attended Cincinnati for the chance to play with Oscar Robertson, won it for the champion Bearcats in 1962. He stayed in town and ended up working for the U.S. Post Service, and serving on the school board. And while we’re on the subject of Robertson, the NCAA lists five triple-doubles in Final Four history. He owns three of them, but his Bearcats were never in the championship game and he never was MOP.
Duke didn’t get to the title game in 1963, but Art Heyman was MOP. He’s the Blue Devil star who had originally committed to North Carolina and then changed his mind. He had a spat or two with the Tar Heels during his career, and helped give birth to the searing rivalry between the two programs that burns to this day.
Bill Bradley scored 58 points for Princeton in the 1965 third place game, still a Final Four record. He had to do something spectacular to win the MOP, since UCLA’s Gail Goodrich scored 42 points in the Bruins’ championship game victory over Michigan, and didn’t get it. Bradley later became a New York Knick, and still later a U.S. senator from New Jersey.
Jerry Chambers won it in 1966, even though Utah lost two games. He was the first and will forever be the last MOP from a fourth-place team.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was MOP as Lew Alcindor for UCLA in 1967. And 1968. And 1969. He’s the only three peater. We can get up a pool to predict what century there will be another.
Bill Walton was MOP in 1972 and ’73, and 47 years later, remains the last man to repeat.
James Worthy was MOP for North Carolina in 1982, even though what everyone remembers from the championship game is the winning shot by the freshman kid, named Michael Jordan.
Houston’s Akeem Olajuwon was the choice in 1983, and still is the last MOP from a non-champion.
In 1986, Louisville’s Pervis Ellison became the first freshman MOP in 42 years, going back to Arnie Ferrin.
Indiana’s Steve Alford scored 33 points to beat No. 1 UNLV in the semifinals in 1987, and 23 more in the championship game against Syracuse. Open-and-shut MOP case, right? Wrong. Keith Smart won the Syracuse game and national title with a baseline jumper, and the voters liked that.
Michigan State’s Mateen Cleaves, Duke’s Shane Battier and Maryland’s Juan Dixon all won the award in in 2000-01-02. They have something else in common – all were seniors. Back then, senior MOPs were cool. There have been only two in the 17 tournaments since.
Sean May won it for North Carolina in 2005, which was 39 years after his father Scott led Indiana to a perfect season — but didn’t get the MOP. To keep the famous dad motif going in 2006, Florida’s Joakim Noah – son of tennis star Yannick – won the award.
Anthony Davis went 1-for-10 shooting and scored only six points for Kentucky in the 2012 championship. Wouldn’t that qualify him for the MOP, if it meant Most Obscure Player? Uh, no. The voters noticed his 16 rebounds against Kansas, his five assists, six blocked shots and three steals. Let the non MOPs do all the scoring.
You don’t even need to be a starter to win this award. Not if you’re playing against Michigan. Louisville’s Luke Hancock came off the bench to score 22 points against the Wolverines in the 2013 championship game, and Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo did the same thing for 31 points against them in 2018.
And then there’s the most recent. Virginia’s Kyle Guy was not the leading scorer for the Cavaliers in the championship game win over Texas Tech, but there was the matter of the three free throws he made with 0.6 seconds left to beat Auburn in the semifinals. This might have been one of the few MOP awards won from the line.
So it’s a varied bunch. Still, the oddest entry of all will be the name next to the 2020 Final Four MOP.