“For the third straight year, Lehigh men’s basketball senior Tim Kempton was awarded with Patriot League Player of the Year honors as announced Monday afternoon by the league.”
That’s the opening lead I wrote in anticipation of Kempton’s record-breaking honor. He was on pace to go down as the first player in Patriot League history to win the award three times, surpassing names like former Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum, ’13, and former Bucknell University forward Mike Muscala, both of whom are in the NBA today.
It was a forgone conclusion after the year he put together. At least that’s what I and 99 percent of Patriot League followers thought.
On Monday afternoon, Bucknell’s Nana Foulland was announced as the Patriot League Player of the Year. With no disrespect to Foulland, calling this selection a robbery is an understatement. There are no words to describe it. There’s also no way of justifying why Foulland deserved it over Kempton.
Shame on the Patriot League coaches who voted. You stripped history away from one of the greatest players ever to compete in the league. After his Patriot League Rookie of the Year campaign, you had three years to figure out a way to slow this guy down and you couldn’t.
His numbers got better each and every year, including this year where he’s putting up career highs in points per game (20.0), rebounds per game (10.1) and 3-pointers made (19). That wasn’t enough to vote for him? There are about 4,563 scholarship basketball players on the Division I level. Kempton is one of two players in the country averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Some coaches’ reasoning could be that Lehigh didn’t finish first in the Patriot League while Bucknell did it for a third straight year. That reasoning is idiotic and a lazy excuse to keep the same guy from winning an award three years in a row.
When Kempton won the award his sophomore year, Lehigh finished third in the Patriot League. Last year, Lehigh finished second behind Bucknell and Kempton still garnered player of the year laurels. This season, Lehigh tied Boston University for second place in the Patriot League, but the head-to head-series gave the Terriers the second seed.
So what’s the difference between then and now if Kempton has improved on his stats from the previous two years? In fact, Lehigh has won 18 games, and that’s the most a Lehigh team has had during the Kempton era, which includes victories over Princeton University and Mississippi State University.
It’s not like Foulland carried his team to a new feat. Bucknell has consistently won the Patriot League in the regular season, and that’s great for them. It’s the system and program they’ve built, not because of a revolutionary player. Don’t get me wrong, Foulland is a solid player and deserved Defensive Player of the Year, but you can even debate that Foulland is not the best player on his team because forward Zach Thomas actually leads the Bison in scoring (15.9).
It’s also worth noting that when Foulland was out with an injury in the last game of the season, Bucknell still won by 22 against a Navy team that finished fourth in the conference. Don’t be fooled, it’s the system.
Back to the topic of head-to-head series, the only Patriot League team Bucknell did not beat this year was none other than the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. Lehigh beat the Bison twice by an average margin of 10 points. A significant reason for that was Kempton averaging 22 points and 9.5 rebounds during their two meetings.
It’s ironic that this award came out the same day Kempton set a new record for most Patriot League Player of the Week awards in a season with seven. So you’re telling me the person with the most Patriot League Player of the Week awards in league history didn’t win Player of the Year?
The whole point of the Player of the Year award is to award the player who performed the best in a season. That’s Kempton, and it’s not even close. If you ask all of the opposing coaches in the league which Patriot League player you’d prefer to have on your team, not one coach would honestly pick against Kempton.
If you want to counter that Foulland is a superior defender compared to Kempton, that is just plain ignorant. Kempton is second in the league (94.9) behind Foulland in defensive rating, and by the eye test, Lehigh struggles defensively when he’s not on the floor. In addition to that, Bucknell has three players within the top 5 of that category, so you can attribute that to the defensive system and scheme of the Bison.
Kempton is a top 10 finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award, which recognizes the best center in the entire country. I didn’t mention his double-doubles. If you truly believe Foulland deserved this award, that’s your opinion, but numbers don’t lie.
Congratulations Patriot League coaches, you poked the bear. You will just have to pray it doesn’t backfire come tournament time.
Zion Olojede, ’18, is the sports editor for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected].