SPORTS

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March 4, 2005

Mojidi should have won close rookie race

I promised myself I wasn't going to write this week, but I have another award decision to complain about. I know that these honors, given by coaches' vote, are what they are—glorified, often arbitrary opinions—but that doesn't lessen the fact that a Chicago player was stiffed in the UAA's recent basketball awards.

This year's rookie-of-the-year race went right down to the wire between the league's top two first-years. In many ways, it boiled down to a steady, refined offensive player against an explosive offensive-defensive talent. They both led their teams in big games and proved to be their most consistent guards. The overall numbers—both over 25 starts—tell how close the finish was:

MIN

PPG FG% 3P%

RPG

A/TO STL

A:

22.8

11.7

44.4

30.2

4.1

0.63

59

B:

28.4

11.8

40.9

35.0

5.3

1.23

30

Who would you pick? The choice isn't immediately clear. What Player A has in her advantage—better field goal percentage and steals—is countered by Player B's better three-point percentage, rebounding, and assists-turnover ratio.

Yet when you equalize A's minutes per game (22.8) to B's (28.4), most of the latter's edge disappears. A would have a big scoring lead (14.6 ppg after adjustment) and close in on rebounding (5.1). Perhaps calculating based on output per minute isn't the most appropriate—it supposes what a player would have done—but it gives a good comparative index.

I can't say I blame the UAA for going with Brandeis guard Jamie Capra (B), but it seems that they went with the safe pick instead of the more deserving one. Sure Brandeis won more games and the team's rookie guard was a big part of that, but Chicago guard Nofi Mojidi took control of both ends of the court and impressed from day two.

Let's check out two possible arguments that may have given Capra the edge over Mojidi:

1. Brandeis finished with a better record than the Maroons. Sure the Judges (21-4, 10-4) swept Chicago (16-9, 9-5) and finished as conference runner-up, but that shouldn't have affected the evaluation of the two teams' top rookies. After all, we're not talking about a big difference between the teams.

Both played in the same number of important games, in particular, all of them. Brandeis and Chicago were in contention for the UAA title all season long, and the Maroons even held the lead over the Judges for the season's first half. Chicago did fade down the stretch, however, but the slump was no fault of Mojidi's: She averaged 11.8 points and four rebounds per game in her team's five conference losses. Capra, on the other hand, had 6.8 points and 3 rebounds per game in Brandeis's four UAA setbacks.

I can understand if Mojidi had put up her numbers in meaningless games, but in fact, she thrived under the pressure most of the time, including her 15-point, 10-rebound, 6-steal performance in Chicago's January 8 overtime win against Wash U. She also played big in another game, scoring 21 points with four rebounds in a close 68-62 loss in the rematch against Brandeis. More impressively, Capra went from the first game's top player (10-15 FG, 25 points, seven rebounds) to a disappointing 4-for-12, 10 points, and five rebounds.

The difference? Mojidi was guarding her in the second game.

2. Capra's cleaner, more consistent play gave her the edge. True, Capra was a very impressive all-around offensive player this year. Her 1.23 assists-turnover ratio was second-best amongst regulars on her team.

Mojidi, on the other hand, often showed herself as a raw talent. She didn't show off the greatest outside shot, though she did more than make up for it by creating easy baskets with some amazing bursts of speed. Most of the time you could see her aggressive play style backfire on her, causing her to either rack up fouls too early or commit too many turnovers. Still, looking only at a player's turnovers doesn't tell the whole story.

In fact, a large part of Mojidi's value came from her defense, namely coming from steals. If you take each player's steals (roughly forced turnovers) and subtract her turnovers, you get an interesting final figure: Capra -5, Mojidi +5. As for consistency, Mojidi never had back-to-back single-digit point totals this year.

Qualitatively, Mojidi was in a defensive class of her own. As teammates and coaches repeatedly emphasized, she single-handedly caused teams to rework their offenses. Seeing Mojidi devastate and intimidate opposing point guards so much that they would literally refuse to take the ball up the court was one of the season's highlights.

I'm not overly upset that Capra won the award because she clearly deserved to be in the running. She had the numbers and big games (including the first one against Chicago) that showed off her talent, but she also didn't impress me as much as Mojidi did.

While Capra was a solid foundation for her team, Mojidi was one that dramatically changed the game. In fact, she was the perfect example of what went right for women's basketball this year. Mojidi, like her teammates, caught a lot of powerhouse teams on their heels, running circles around them and playing over their heads with gutsy performances. On paper, Capra may have been more impressive, but in reality, Mojidi made a bigger impact. With both comparable statistically, Mojidi gets the edge for that reason alone.

In the end, I'm just looking forward to the rematch between these two next year.