Column: UConn's sportsmen of the year
It was announced Tuesday morning that LeBron James is this year's Sports Illustrated "Sportsman of the Year," putting him among the likes of Olympian Michael Phelps, golfer Tiger Woods and tennis legend Arthur Ashe, just to name a few.
Many, including me, might be quick to criticize LeBron at first. Those images from his infamous press conference in Greenwich two summers ago come to mind all too easily, reasserting the villain role that stuck to James so quickly after his Cleveland departure.
When it comes down to it though, few are truly hard-pressed to say that James wasn't more than deserving of the award, citing the NBA MVP Award, NBA Championship, NBA Finals MVP Award and Olympic Gold medal he accumulated over the past 12 months. He took the defeats and criticism that defined his 2011, and turned them into performances basketball fans won't forget for a long time.
2012 belonged to LeBron James.
But when you shrink the size of the scope down from the general sports world to Storrs, it would be a shame to ignore some of the notable sports figures that made 2012 what is was for UConn and its fans this year. My candidates for UConn's Sportsman of the Year are as follows:
Geno Auriemma: 2011 belonged to Calhoun and the boys, but Auriemma led his women back to the Final Four in 2012, a feat that seemed way out of reach earlier on in the season, especially after the graduation of Maya Moore.
UConn has definitely become comfortable with the success of the women's team, feeling disappointed any time the team comes short of a national championship. But the resiliency of the 2011-2012 squad was beyond impressive.
They lost four times in the regular season - once to Baylor, second to St. John's and twice to Notre Dame-but came back stronger with every test. In the Big East Championship game, they pulled away from Notre Dame for an all too fitting 800th career for Geno, and would end up coming just short of a rematch with Baylor, losing in overtime to Notre Dame in the national semifinal.
Mamadou Diouf, Carlos Alvarez: Quietly, the UConn men's soccer team once again put itself among the ranks of the top teams of the country, returning to the national quarterfinals for a second straight year. Senior midfielder Alvarez and junior forward Diouf were two of the biggest reasons why.
Alvarez, with seven goals and nine assists, and Diouf, with 15 goals and two assists, were two of the main leaders for the team that went 17-4-1 and only lost one game at home the entire season (their quarterfinal loss to Creighton this Sunday). Their efforts were rewarded this past week when both were named semifinalists for the Missouri Athletics Club's Hermann Trophy, awarded to the best player in the country.
Susan Herbst, Warde Manuel: Recently, whenever conference realignment comes back into the spotlight-and trust me, it's not leaving it any time soon-UConn seems to be left on the outside looking in., For failing to get the Huskies into the ACC (or, more tragically, out of the Big East), President Herbst and Athletic Director Manuel make the list this year.
This impacted UConn athletics more than anything this year, albeit negatively.
I can only hope that by this point next year, the two will be up for UConn sportspeople of the year for setting this school up for success and once again having the Huskies in the same conference as some of the country's most competitive schools.
The ones that stayed: Lamb, Drummond, Oriakhi and Smith, all out after the most disappointing title defense in UConn's history. It was a tough season, only to be followed by this season's tournament sanctions, making the players that stayed in Storrs the real heroes for UConn moving forward.
When it comes down to it, it's hard to be angry at Lamb, Oriakhi and Smith considering all they did to help lead the team in 2011. And when it comes to Drummond, I don't think anyone seriously thought he was going to stay past his freshman year anyways.
But the players that stayed for the 2012-2013 campaign and beyond are the real admirable ones because they represent all that is "team-first." Despite any other opportunity presented to them, they stayed Huskies.
Boatright, Napier and, somewhat surprisingly, Giffey, are now the faces of this men's basketball team moving forward. And, considering their putting UConn before any other option they faced, I'm quite alright with that.
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