Cameron Bairstow comes from down under to top 10 in Wooden race

Tuesday January 14th, 2014

Cameron Bairstow played for two national teams in his native Australia this summer.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Here are the main takeaways from Week 7 of SI's Wooden Watch: Our senior leader, Doug McDermott, gets more convincing by the game, while his freshmen contenders seem to be grabbing their shorts. Marcus Smart blew up again offensively while Iowa State's DeAndre Kane bulled his way into the top three with a week of head-turning performances. Some players are lingering on the list despite their team's fading relevance while others are still pounding on the gates to get in. The season still feels young. Read on!

Spotlight on: Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico

When he arrived in Albuquerque from Brisbane as a 6-foot-9, 210-pound freshman in 2010, Cameron Bairstow couldn't jump up and touch the rim. But he was a better athlete than he had been a year earlier, when he entered the Australian Institute of Sport as a late call-up. "I was fairly small, 6-7 or 6-8, 200 pounds," he recalls, "and I was a pretty terrible athlete to be honest."

Now the burly Bairstow, who along with 7-foot redshirt junior Alex Kirk make up one of the country's best frontcourt tandems, is the Lobos' leading scorer (20 ppg) and rebounder (7.3 rpg), a magnet for fouls (he gets to the line 8.7 times a game and delivers at a 74 percent clip) and a leading candidate for the nation's most improved player, not to mention player of the year.

Lobos coach Craig Neal says the biggest difference between Bairstow this year and last, when as a junior he averaged 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds, is the confidence he gained this summer playing for two Australian national teams. Bairstow led the World University Games squad to a silver medal -- his country's first medal in men's international play -- and was called up by the senior level boomers for a FIBA Oceania qualifier against New Zealand.

Bairstow also credits a wrinkle in his habits. This year after home games, he heads straight to the Lobos' weight room and pumps iron for about 45 minutes, while still in his uniform. What had been an occasional routine turned inviolable after Boomer David Anderson, a 34-year-old veteran of the Euro leagues, told Bairstow he could keep his weight on more easily if he worked out right after games, when his adrenaline was high and he had maximum recovery time before the next game. "All the improvement in my athletic performance have been due to that weight room," says Bairstow. "If I don't lift as much, I kind of lose that performance. If I lift, I maintain my strength and move a lot better."

The result of all that weight work is not just a workout beast who puts other Lobo athletes to shame -- "He does some things in the weight room that football players can't do," says Neal -- it is a strong, nimble frontcourt player who can hold his own in the paint while flipping in pretty right and left-handed hook shots. One thing about Bairstow that hasn't changed, says Neal: "He has always had a knack for making shots."

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton

McDermott's latest game, a 95-89 win over Xavier, might be his most impressive: 35 points on 13-24 shooting (including 4-of-10 threes), seven rebounds and three assists, all while playing with a sprained shoulder and without teammate Grant Gibbs. Oh, and during the week, McDermott leapt from 41st to 28th on the all-time NCAA scoring list. Dougie through 16: 25 points, 7.3 rebounds, 49 percent FG, 42.6 percent from three, 90 percent from the line.

2. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

In wins this week against Texas and at West Virginia, Smart loudly reasserted himself on both ends of the floor, averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds, five assists and 3.5 steals. So much for his shaky status in fourth place last week. Smart through 16: 17.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.6 steals (12th in the nation).

3. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State

Since our last Wooden Watch a week ago, the 6-4 Marshall grad has radically altered the shape of this race. Let's review: In a win over then-No. 7 Baylor, he scored a season-high 30 points, grabbed eight rebounds and five steals and dished out nine assists. In a loss at Oklahoma, he delivered 23 points, nine rebounds and four assists. In a home loss to Kansas, he scored 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and four steals and made three assists -- while playing on a sprained ankle. OK, then. Kane through 15: 16.5 points (on 53 percent shooting) 7.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.5 steals.

4. Jabari Parker, Duke

The biggest sign that Jabari Parker has hit a wall isn't his statistical profile, which has skewed to pedestrian in the last five games. It's that he isn't getting the ball in crunch time. In a home game against Virginia on Monday, it was Rasheed Sulaimon who saved the day with a three-pointer. Over the last three games, which include a loss to Clemson, Parker has averaged just 11.6 points and 5.3 rebounds. But his overall resume through 17 games isn't bad: 18.8 points (on 48 percent shooting) and 7.3 rebounds.

5. Julius Randle, Kentucky

Randle seems to be another victim of freshman fatigue: After 13 straight double-digit scoring performances, he failed to reach 10 points in either of his two games this week, and took a total of just six free throws. He was a beast on the boards, however, grabbing 14 against Mississippi State and 11 against Vanderbilt. Randle through 15: 16.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 54 percent shooting, 8.3 trips to the line.

6. Keith Appling, Michigan State

The good and the bad of the week for Sparty: The team survived two overtime games, at home against Ohio State and on the road against Minnesota, to move into solo first place in the Big Ten. The bad? It took overtimes in both games to do it. The Spartans blew a 17-point lead before putting away the Buckeyes and lost a five-point lead over the Gophers with 13 seconds left in regulation. So the team has a few issues. But Appling, at the moment, isn't among them. In those two games he averaged 22 points, five rebounds and five assists. Appling through 16: 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists.

7. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut

It's hard to think of another player who carries as much of a load for his team as Bazz does for Connecticut. He leads the team in five categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals and free throw shooting. In wins over Harvard and UCF this week, he was right on pace, averaging 16 points, 6 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 3.5 steals while hitting 14-of-16 shots, total, from the line. Napier through 16: 16 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6 assists, 2.1 steals, 86 percent from the line.

8. Russ Smith, Louisville

Smith has turned it up offensively, a critical development for the Cards going forward. In four games since the Cards' loss to Kentucky on Dec. 28 -- including, alas, a galling home loss to Memphis, their third loss to a ranked team this year -- he averaged 22 points, five assists and 3.7 rebounds, all while maintaining his usual pestiferous defensive pressure. Smith through 17: 18.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2 steals a game.

9. Nick Johnson, Arizona

It was an excellent week for the Wildcats' leading scorer, glue guy and veteran-with-a-long-memory. After reminding his young teammates that UCLA beat them three times last year, Johnson did everything he could to change the storyline. In a 79-75 thriller at Pauley Pavilion, he dropped 22 points, including three threes. At USC two days later, he robbed the Trojans blind, grabbing a season-high five steals to go with 15 points.Johnson through 17: 16.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 49 percent shooting.

10. Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico

After scoring 20 or more for six of seven games, Bairstow had a quiet week and an uncharacteristically rough stretch at the free throw line (4-of-12) while getting 15 points each in road wins at Wyoming and San Jose. He'll be back home in the Pit to unleash his full arsenal against UNLV -- and Roscoe Smith, the nation's top rebounder -- on Wednesday. Bairstow through 15: 20 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks a game.

In the wings: CJ Fair, Syracuse; Andrew Wiggins, Kansas; Jahii Carson, Arizona State; Casey Prather, Florida; Chaz Williams, UMass; Cleanthony Early, Wichita State; Kyle Anderson, UCLA; Casey Prather, Florida

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