The Wooden Award is the most coveted individual honour in collegiate basketball, with a host of the game’s biggest names among the previous winners, including Boomers centre Andrew Bogut (2005), Larry Bird (1979), Michael Jordan (1984), Tim Duncan (1997), Kevin Durant (2007) and Blake Griffin (2009).
Bairstow has enjoyed a fantastic start to the 2013/14 NCAA season, leading the New Mexico Lobos to a 14-4 record and a 5-1 record in the Mountain West Conference (MWC). The Brisbane native has taken on the role of leading the Lobos offense this season, continually posting big points totals.
The 23-year-old is currently averaging 20.3 points per game, which has him ranked 23rd in all of college basketball. There has been significant improvement across all offensive statistical categories from Bairstow, shooting 56.4% from the field and 74.1% from the free throw line.
There has also experienced a jump in his rebounding production (7.0 per game), assists (1.9), blocks (1.4) and steals (0.8) to career-high levels.
Praise has been forthcoming for the Boomers big man, with ESPN college basketball reporter Eamonn Brennan calling Bairstow “the most statistically impressive player in the country”.
The Albuquerque Journal has anointed Bairstow as the MWC player of the year, with columnist Geoff Grammer describing the 23-year-old as “arguably the best player in the league”.
It has been a whirlwind 12 months for Bairstow, who forced his way into the Lobos starting line-up late last season, going on to claim MWC All-Tournament First Team honours.
This momentum was carried into a busy national team schedule, with Bairstow earning a call-up to the Boomers squad for the Sino-Australia Challenge against China. Here he would impress on his Boomers debut, becoming a key piece of the Emerging Boomers team for the World University Games in Russia.
Bairstow would be the star as the Emerging Boomers claimed the silver medal, the first time an Australian men’s team had medalled at the tournament.
From here a return to the Boomers fold seemed natural, earning a spot in the team for the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championships against New Zealand, helping the Boomers advance as top seeds in the region to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.
The Wooden Award is named in honour of legendary college basketball figure John Wooden, who became the one of the most successful coaches in American sport, winning a remarkable 10 NCAA Championships in a 12-year span from 1964 to 1975.
The good run of form continued for Bairstow and his Lobos as they defeated Boise State 85-74 on Wednesday, with the forward posting 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field.
Fellow Aussie Hugh Greenwood had a season-high 20 points in the victory over the Broncos, posting 7-of-9 shooting from the floor and 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. The Boise State Australian contingent were impressive in the defeat, with Nick Duncan the standout, dropping 16 points, including five three-pointers.