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Sean May And Hindsight

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The inevitable manner in which the pro career casts shadows on college accomplishments.

JP Giglio at ACC Now is reporting that Sean May is ready to return to action in the NBA after having microfracture surgery.  Giglio also points out that as we get ready to discuss Tyler Hansbrough's place among the ACC greats that Sean May's injury prone NBA career might exclude him from those conversations.

We're going to spend a lot of time next ACC season comparing Tyler Hansbrough to the all-time greats of the game. Here's a guess that May, the MOP of the 2005 NCAA Final Four, will be overlooked in that conversation because his pro career, thus far, has been an injury-filled bust.

May's NBA shortcomings shouldn't change the fact that we has a more dominant — not productive, but dominant — college player than Hansbrough, but undoubtedly they will.

Actually, May played an integral part in the legend of Psycho T. If May had returned to Chapel Hill for his senior season, as he had planned, Hansbrough would have spent the 2005-06 season as May's Paduan learner.

Instead, Ray Felton convinced May to leave and the rest is history.

It is almost a certainty that had May stayed for his senior season, Hansbrough's career numbers would not be near the level they are now.  That is not to say he still would not end up being the all time leading scorer in UNC history but he would be further off since May would have been the centerpiece of the UNC offense in 2006.  I also think it is noteworthy that May's decision was not a bad one, he ended up being picked #13 in the draft and most agree made the right move.  May's stock was high after winning the title and being named MOP of the Final Four.  There was also the matter of returning to a decimated team and not knowing what that would have done for your stock.  As it turned out, May returning may have given UNC a legitimate shot at a 2nd straight Final Four appearance and at least the opportunity to defend their title.  Undoubtedly May would have been a favorite for NPOY and playing alongside Hansbrough and David Noel with Reyshawn Terry developing and a serviceable Bobby Frasor at PG. Adding Marcus Ginyard and Danny Gree into the mix UNC was at least as good as the teams that ended up in the Final Four that season.

The notion that May will be excluded from discussion of Hansbrough's place in UNC history has merit.  I would argue that it goes beyond what has happened since he went to Charlotte.  Any conversation you have about Hansbrough's greatness and where he stands among the giants in a program like UNC often carries with it the criteria that a player perform at a high level for at least three years.  May did not do that. Partially because he was injured his freshman season and also in part because of the nasty business that went down in 2003 leading to a coaching change.  Hansbrough also has a NPOY, ACC POY and three straight All-ACC and All-American appearances.

That being said, if we are simply here to talk about the player's dominance and impact, especially when a national title has been won as a result, Sean May should be included in the conversation.  May's junior season was an incredible performance, especially when you look at the 2nd half of the regular season and postseason play.  We have discussed on this blog how much Hansbrough stepped up his game when Ty Lawson went down this past season.  May essentially did the same thing, in fact I still have not been able to come to terms with how he was not the ACC POY.  The media had their collective hearts set on Duke's JJ Redick as the ACC POY by the midway point and even some outlandish performances from May, two of them coming against Duke's Shelden Williams did not seem to change their mind.  In the two games versus Duke in 2005, May averaged 24.5 ppg and 21 rpg.  He had 24 rebounds in the regular season finale which is, in a word, ridiculous.

May ended up averaging a double-double for his career at UNC and recorded the most rebounds in a single season for a UNC player with 397, a record Hansbrough broke this past season with 399 rebounds.  May carried UNC when Rashad McCants went out with an intestinal disorder and his leadership called to mind George Lynch's championship or bust mentality from 1993. For his junior season alone, Sean May gets moved several notches up among UNC greats and had he played a full four years healthy, he would have easily been considered one of the all time greats.

Of course the fact May's NBA career has never really taken off causes many to give pause when considering his past accomplishments.  This tends to work in both directions however.  James Worthy, for example, is ranked 45th on the UNC scoring list, did not win a consensus NPOY award but was an All-American.  Worthy led the Heels to the 1982 title and was the Final Four MOP.  His number is retired and he is automatically considered one of the greats of all time despite the fact his stats are fairly pedestrian when compared to Hansbrough.  Why?  Worthy ended up being a great in the NBA and that success gets projected backwards though his junior season, like May's junior season was the only earth shattering one.  The key is it included an NCAA ring and some great game winning performances.  The same is often said about Michael Jordan(mostly by detractors) but in Jordan's case he won a title(hitting the game winner) and was also a consensus NPOY.  Jordan also did a fair amount of ridiculous things on the court in college.

The point is none of these debates take place in a vacuum.  The culture is very present oriented and based on instant information to the point what May has been lately colors the perception of him which spills over into discussions of the past.  I also believe there is an element of thinking the individuals is a fluke of sorts because they were wildly successful on one level and then on the next is a flop.  This mentality does not seem to have caught up to JJ Redick yet, but it is difficult to discount a NPOY and all time leading scorer in ACC history. The same should hold for Hansbrough even if his NBA career does not pan out or goes the way of Redick which is unlikely since Hansbrough is not one to sit on the bench and whine.

And one final note on May.  While the performances were dominant on the court and he was well spoken off, it is important to grasp what that title meant both in terms of burying 2002 and getting the gorilla off Roy's back.  Sean May stands as a symbol of the UNC program being restored to glory and in the process made sure Roy would never be labeled as the "best coach to never win a title" again.  May was aware of all of this.  His motivation to win the title bore these issues in mind and that element of his leadership coupled with the fact he stepped up a delivered(something Redick never did) cements him in UNC history as a fan favorite and extraordinary player.