Confetti rains as adrenaline carries a team onto a stage. Reality begins to set in for newly minted national champions. Before a ladder is raised, nets are cut or "One Shining Moment" is played, one individual will experience a final wave of emotion after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
A variation of the honor has been awarded since 1939, beginning with the first-ever NCAA men’s basketball tournament. That year, Jimmy Hull of Ohio State — the national runner-up — was chosen as the recipient.
Seven years later, Bob Kurland won the award for a second consecutive year in guiding what's now known as Oklahoma State to back-to-back titles. Kurland is one of five players to win the accolade multiple times. The others are Alex Groza (Kentucky, 1948-49), Jerry Lucas (Ohio State, 1960-61), Lew Alcindor (UCLA, 1967-69) and Bill Walton (UCLA, 1972-73).
Walton's second time winning the award in 1973 bares significance both in his performance and in the year itself. The Bruins' big man put together one of the best performances in college basketball tournament history, hitting 21-of-22 shots and finishing with 44 points to lead UCLA to the title. Additionally, that season was the the last of of the Bruins' seven consecutive championships and was also the first year in which freshmen were granted varsity status in college basketball.
Following the NCAA rule change on the athletic status of freshmen, it'd be another 13 years before one would be named Most Outstanding Player of a Men's Final Four. Louisville's Pervis Ellison took home the honor in 1986, just the second freshman to do so at that point — Arnie Ferrin (Utah, 1944).
Since then, a number of star freshman have captivated college basketball audiences with show-stopping highlights and deep NCAA tournament runs. However, only three other first-year players have been named Most Outstanding Player:
- Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse (2003)
- Anthony Davis, Kentucky (2012)
- Tyus Jones, Duke (2015)
To this day, freshmen remain the least-represented demographic overall. But in the last 20 years, sophomores have produced the fewest winners. Joakim Noah is the sole sophomore on the list this century. He was named the 2006 recipient after the first of Florida's back-to-back titles.
It's been 13 seasons since a sophomore was the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. The two streaks longer than that are players winning multiple times (see above) and the award going to a non-champion. Hull was the first of a dozen players to be named Most Outstanding Player despite not winning a national championship. Hakeem Olajuwon is the last to do it, claiming the honor for Houston after the Cougars finished as national runner-up in 1983.
Here is the complete history of the Final Four's Most Outstanding Players:
|2017||Joel Berry II||Junior||North Carolina|
|2009||Wayne Ellington||Junior||North Carolina|
|2005||Sean May||Junior||North Carolina|
|2000||Mateen Cleaves||Senior||Michigan State|
|1993||Donald Williams||Sophomore||North Carolina|
|1982||James Worthy||Junior||North Carolina|
|1979||Magic Johnson||Sophomore||Michigan State|
|1974||David Thompson||Sophomore||NC State|
|1973||Bill Walton %||Junior||UCLA|
|1969||Lew Alcindor %||N/A||UCLA|
|1968||Lew Alcindor %||N/A||UCLA|
|1966||Jerry Chambers **||N/A||Utah|
|1965||Bill Bradley **||N/A||Princeton|
|1963||Art Heyman **||N/A||Duke|
|1962||Paul Hogue **||N/A||Cincinnati|
|1961||Jerry Lucas **%||N/A||Ohio State|
|1960||Jerry Lucas||N/A||Ohio State|
|1959||Jerry West **||N/A||West Virginia|
|1958||Elgin Baylor **||N/A||Seattle|
|1957||Wilt Chamberlain **||N/A||Kansas|
|1956||Hal Lear **||N/A||Temple|
|1955||Bill Russell||N/A||San Francisco|
|1954||Tom Gola||N/A||La Salle|
|1949||Alex Groza %||N/A||Kentucky|
|1947||George Kaftan||N/A||Holy Cross|
|1946||Bob Kurland||N/A||Oklahoma A&M***|
|1945||Bob Kurland||N/A||Oklahoma A&M***|
|1939||Jimmy Hull**||N/A||Ohio State|
* – Louisville's participation in the 2013 NCAA tournament was later vacated
** – Indicates player named MOP without winning national championship
*** – Now known as Oklahoma State
% – Repeat winner