Minium: B.J. Stith was a Worthy Choice for Conference USA Player of the Year, but so Would Have Been Ahmad Caver
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
B.J. Stith richly deserved every ounce of joy he felt when Conference USA announced on Wednesday that he had been named the league's basketball Player of the Year.
He earned it.
The 6-foot-5 guard who grew up in tiny Freeman, Va., about 80 miles west of Norfolk, led the Monarchs in scoring, was the team’s best defensive rebounder and led by example. He practices hard, plays hard and enjoys winning with the kind of joyful gusto that you just want to drink in.
He’s not just a great player, he’s a great character. He jokes with ODU fans, talks to players from other teams, and even mixes it up with opposing fans. But never in a bad way. No trash talking. He just loves to interact with people.
B.J.’s career has also been an inspiring comeback story. The once ballyhooed recruit played for his father, former University of Virginia star Bryant Stith, at Brunswick County High. He committed to U.Va. as a sophomore and stuck with it even though he played his final year at Oak Hill Academy, where many other schools also offered him.
Things did not work out well at U.Va. He played sparingly as a freshman. He was the 12th man off the bench. His self-confidence was shattered.
Face it, coaches there didn't think he had what it takes.
It took a while, but after transferring to ODU, he got his game back on track. He was a standout last season and this season stopped up and made clutch shots when ODU most needed them.
He scored 18 points in ODU’s upset victory at No. 25 Syracuse and 21 against VCU, a team that likely will join the Top 25 next week.
Surely, the Conference USA Player of the Year, who played so well against an ACC school as a senior, has proven he could play on that level.
He redeemed himself at ODU.
With all that said, it’s a shame the award couldn’t have been a joint affair, for Ahmad Caver, the point guard who made ODU tick this season, was just as worthy. Some would say more worthy, in fact.
Some like plain or peanut M&Ms. Others choose stuffing over mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. They’re equally good.
And Stith and Caver were equally vital to ODU’s 23-8 record and its run to the C-USA regular-season.
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what B.J. said about the guy he calls “My brother, and the best point guard I ever played with” Tuesday at Norfolk International Airport before the award was announced.
“The ideal situation would be co-player of the year,” Stith said. “If we’re being completely honest Ahmad is the engine who keeps our team going. Ahmad scores, he makes sure everyone else is in position to score. Amhad is a pest on defense. I think Ahmad is the real engine who keeps us going.
“If I win it, it will be a blessing, but my mind is not on player of the year, it’s winning the conference tournament.”
ODU coach Jeff Jones couldn’t pick between them either. He took a risk and nominated both of the for Player of the Year.
Doing so could have split the ODU vote and allowed someone from another team win player of the year.
“I knew I was taking a chance, but there’s no way I could pick one over the other,’ he said. “They’ve both been so instrumental to our success.
“Their leadership and competitiveness, being ready to answer the bell every time they take the court, the intangible things they do, leading and showing be example how to do things, they are almost as important as the tangible things they do
“Ahmad does so much for our team, but they are different players and play different roles.
“B. J. is our best free throw shooter. He’s shown the ability to score at all three levels (in the lane, just outside the lane and from 3-point range), which means we can try different things.
“I’m happy for B.J. that he won. At the same time, I wish Ahmad had a piece of the award, too.”
I covered Bryant Stith, now an ODU assistant coach, for four seasons when he was a three-time All-ACC choice at U.Va. Saw him after some soul-crushing defeats, but never saw him shed a tear.
But on Tuesday, when we talked about his son, his eyes grew misty. Sometimes we forget that Bryant is a father first and foremost who loves his children.
“I’m excited, I’m really excited for him because of his journey to this point,” he said. “My journey was a lot different than BJ’s. I didn’t have the transfer. When I came into a situation I didn’t have the obstacles and hurdles that B.J. had to cross to get to this point.
“To see him weather the storm and be able to rebuild his confidence and embrace this situation at Old Dominion, I’m pretty proud of my son.”
That’s when he stopped for a few seconds to regain his composure.
“When he left U.Va., B.J.’s confidence was in ruins. He was questioning whether he can play at this level. He wanted to do great things to badly at the University of Virginia and when that didn’t transpire, it kind of knocked him off his edge.
“It took him a year or two to get that edge back. In his second year, you were starting to see him glimpses of him coming back, in conference play could see him that’s when his confidence soared to another level. You saw the potential he had, and the places he could elevate his team.
I’m so proud of him for that. A lot of people put in that same predicament, they are not able to find their way out of that rut and not able to contribute to a team with a regular-season championship.”
ODU wants more than the regular-season championship. Yes that guaranteed them a bit to the National Invitation Tournament.
"That's great, but that's not our ultimate goal," Stith said. "We want to win the league championship here, and play in the NCAA tournament. We haven't been there before and we really want to go."
If they get to the Big Dance, it will because two players, not just one, led them there.