If you watched UCF's sensational freshman Taylor Hendricks at practice Wednesday night you couldn't tell if he was upset that he didn't win AAC Freshman of the Year. Hendricks laughed with teammates during a light workout on the eve of UCF's opening game in the conference tournament. He smiled, joked and drilled shot after shot after shot. He glided across the floor doing Taylor Hendricks things because that's who Taylor Hendricks is.
Hendricks posted a tweet after the conference awards were announced and his name was not listed as the winner of Freshman of the Year: "Blessed Regardless"
One can't blame Hendricks for being a bit puzzled by the announcement. Houston's Jarace Walker was chosen by league coaches as the best freshman. Walker is a great player. Heck, Jarace Walker is likely to be a top-10 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. He plays for the number one team in the country and a coach picking Walker over Hendricks is not a crazy choice but it's a questionable one if we are going on stats.
Hendricks was better than Walker in points per game, rebounds and blocks. He led the conference in blocks. The league honored Hendricks as the Freshman of the Week nine times. Walker won it twice.
But the weekly honor plays no role in the vote by coaches. How close was the vote? Who didn't vote for Hendricks and why is not known. The AAC doesn't announce the results of the voting other than who got the most votes.
Do I think I know which coaches didn't vote for Hendricks and why? I think I can make a pretty good guess but it doesn't matter. What's done is done.
I don't doubt a few coaches put more value on Walker playing for the number one team in the country versus the player on a team who finished seventh in the league. But it doesn't mean Hendricks is not a special player.
Taylor Hendricks was the highest rated player to ever come to UCF out of high school. He wasn't a top 50 player yet but if he chooses to enter the NBA Draft he will likely be a top 20 pick- because he's that good.
If you look at the stat sheet you won't know how good Hendricks is. He is averaging 16-points a game and 7-rebounds a game. But Taylor is special. He has that "it" factor you can just see. He handles himself like a star but is as humble as you will find. He is quiet and at times reminds himself he is just a freshman. He will do things off the court that rookies are expected to do, like take bags off the plane and bus and defer to veteran players for the better seats on the plane and bus.
On one trip this season when UCF was flying commercial, an assistant coach saved a seat on the wider exit row for Hendricks so he could stretch out and have a little bit more room for his tall frame. When Hendricks was told he could move to that row he declined. He was fine sitting next to his brother, Tyler, further to the back of the plane in a tight fit row. Why? Because that's who Taylor Hendricks is.
On the court he dunks, blocks shots, rebounds, scores inside and outside and draws the attention of NBA scouts every time he steps on the court. At times I think Hendricks is too unselfish. He wants to keep teammates involved at times when he might need to take over a game. He can and when he does he is one of the best players in the country. At 6-9, and likely growing, Hendricks is the classic prototype the NBA loves of a guy who can play multiple positions and cover all five positions.
Hendricks has yet to announce his plans for next season. UCF would love it if he returned and helped the Knights make their debut in the Big 12. But one can't blame him if he chooses to go pro. Most respected mock drafts have Hendricks going anywhere from 8-20. Last year's 20th pick in the NBA Draft was guaranteed $7.7M over three years. That is life changing money.
Today Hendricks will try and help his team win an opening round game in the AAC Tournament. The Knights will need to win four games in four days to make the NCAA Tournament. If they win three in a row they likely will get Walker and the top ranked Cougars in the championship game. If that happens, a lot of NBA scouts will be watching with interest. Both will likely play a long time in the league and despite not winning an award in what might be his only season at UCF, the humbled Taylor Hendricks will be just fine...
Final note: Potatoes, tomatoes and onions ranked 1-2-3 in most popular vegetables sold in the US.