Daniel Bejarano’s emergence as one of the best players in the conference went overlooked in last season’s rebuild.
Something else that seems to be lost on Rams fans: the Mountain West Conference is wide open for the taking. So is the MWC Player of the Year Award.
Bejarano was named the MWC Sixth Man of the Year in his first season as a Ram. Last season he earned Second-Team All-Mountain West honors.
Now, the senior from Phoenix, Arizona can establish himself as the top player in the conference. His goal will be to win basketball games, but he certainly has the talent to earn individual recognition in the process.
Four of the conference’s first-team selections were seniors (including San Diego State’s Xavier Thames, the 2013-2014 MWC Player of the Year), which opens the door to players like Daniel Bejarano and Boise State’s Anthony Drmic.
The only first-team selection returning in 2014-2015, Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr., has not played since tearing his ACL in February. Otherwise, he would be the obvious pre-season favorite for the award.
Despite the injury, Nance, who is expected to be back for the start of the season, should still be considered the front-runner for MWC Player of the Year.
Statistics do not tell the whole story, but they paint a fairly accurate picture when comparing Nance and Bejarano.
Nance averaged 15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Bejarano averaged 16.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Those numbers look pretty even, but Nance was a much more efficient scorer (54.4 percent from the field) than Bejarano (36.4 percent).
In Bejarano’s defense, the lack of scoring options last year forced him to take tough shots, and lots of them, which clearly hurt that percentage.
That doesn’t mean he gets a free pass though – he needs to shoot at least 40 percent from the field this year for voters to recognize him as the conference’s best player.
Bejarano is listed at 6’4,” but he appears bigger in person, and he plays bigger too. The way he crashes the boards is a dream for coach Larry Eustachy.
On the court, he can do almost everything: shoot threes, finish at the rim, rebound, defend, handle the ball, get his jumper off against taller defenders, create for teammates, etc.
The one thing that he hasn’t done consistently is temper his emotions.
Bejarano’s a fierce competitor. He holds himself and his teammates to a high standard. That intensity culminated in some untimely mental mistakes on the court, though.
Eustachy took him out of the game early at San Diego State due to his poor body language. Visibly upset with the coach’s decision, teammates had to restrain Bejarano during the next timeout.
Those emotions spilled over again versus Utah State in the conference tournament. The Rams were ahead with under a minute to play when Bejarano picked up a technical foul. The Aggies made the resulting free throws and went on to win the game.
But, those incidents were learning experiences. Without Octeus around, Bejarano will have more responsibility as a leader.
He should have more help on offense, though. Transfers John Gillon and Stanton Kidd provide more shooting and scoring options. Bejarano still needs to put up big numbers, but he won’t have to work as hard for his shots.
If you think I’m overrating his potential, maybe you missed the orange-out against Wyoming when Bejarano took over and notched 20 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 steals.
A missed three by Carlton Hurst late in the game left him one assist shy of a triple-double. To put that in perspective, only 10 players in the NCAA recorded a triple-double last season, including first round NBA draft picks Shabazz Napier, Kyle Anderson and Elfrid Payton.
But, even on an off night, you can see that Bejarano has what it takes to possibly be the best player in the conference.
The feistiness he plays with is what makes him so much fun to watch. It’s just a matter of finding the right balance.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.