There was a time, not very long ago, when David West would have been considered a long shot for national player of the year. For all the NBA workhorses that Xavier has produced ( Brian Grant, Tyrone Hill, James Posey), the Musketeers have always been a regional delicacy in the manner of Skyline Chili, another Cincinnati institution. What's more, none of those previous Muskies standouts possessed the transcendent talent necessary to hit the escape velocity required of national PoY boys.
David West does. As electrifying as Texas's T.J. Ford and Marquette's Dwyane Wade may be, no player in the country has combined the classic hoops attributes—power and finesse, scoring and rebounding, passing and defense—the way the 6'9", 240-pound senior West has. In a game nearly bereft of big men, he is a rarity: a complete post player. You can tell by checking West's stats (through Sunday, 20.4 points, 11.9 boards, 3.3 assists and a team-leading 1.4 steals a game). Or, better yet, just watch him slowly impose his will on an opponent, like a champion chess player. "He's so patient," says Xavier coach Thad Matta. "Here's a guy who's scored 2,000 points, and I still say he's the most unselfish player that I've ever coached."
If we needed convincing that West has that extra something—the big-game mojo—to be called the best player in the land, he displayed it for us last month in a pair of showdowns against Atlantic 10 rival Dayton. On Feb. 8 in Cincinnati, Flyers coach Oliver Purnell opted to defend West one-on-one. West responded with the single-game performance of the year: 47 points and 18 rebounds in the Musketeers' 85-77 victory. Chastened, the Flyers double-teamed West in Dayton on Feb. 22, and though his numbers went down (What, only 27 and eight?), West's 3-for-3 three-point shooting, deft passing, three blocked shots and nose for loose balls helped No. 10 Xavier (24-4 through Sunday) earn the season sweep with a 73-72 win.
Says Purnell, whose Flyers (an NCAA tournament sleeper) are no lambs, "Defending him one-on-one is almost impossible because he's such an excellent post-up player with quickness. But if you double him, he's a tremendous passer who can find his teammates on the weak side and perimeter."
Poisoning West's chili may be the only remaining option. In the Musketeers' 88-80 win at St. Joseph's on March 5, West overcame the Hawks' early double teams (he had only one first-half basket) to score 10 of his 25 points in overtime. Part of the credit for West's poise under fire, he says, goes to a discussion he had with Matta after deciding to return to Xavier last summer. "The game is bigger than one or two possessions," West explains, "and realizing that has really helped me this year."
In that same meeting coach and player set a number of goals for West, one of which was to win the national player of the year award. By displaying the widest range of skills and producing the singular feat of the season, West has done enough by my lights to earn it.