- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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A season ago, Thomas Robinson was coming off the bench for Kansas, backing up Marcus and Markieff Morris as they starred for the Jayhawks.
With the Morris twins off to the NBA, Robinson stepped into the starting lineup, the spotlight and for now, the leader in the first ESPN.com College Basketball Player of the Year poll of the season.
Robinson picked up half of the first-place ballots from the 50 voters polled anonymously.
The poll works like this. Each voter has an actual vote in one of the four major college basketball player of the year awards -- the Wooden, Naismith, Robertson (USBWA) or Associated Press. Each pollster sends us their top three. A first-place vote is worth three points, a second-place vote worth two and a third-place vote worth one.
This is the fourth year of the poll and its third home. The idea originated at the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette in 2009. I was a Notre Dame beat writer and wanted to gauge where former Irish forward Luke Harangody stood in the 2009 Player of the Year race. Turns out Oklahoma's Blake Griffin led the thing wire-to-wire.
It then moved to AnnArbor.com the past two seasons, which saw more competitive races. In 2010, Kentucky's John Wall led the first two polls before being overtaken by Evan Turner of Ohio State. Last season, UConn's Kemba Walker led the early polls, but BYU sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette stormed through the field and overtook the poll midway through conference season.
So far, the straw poll has correctly tabbed the past three players of the year.
Now the poll has moved to ESPN.com, where after today, it will run every other Wednesday. Why does the poll exist, you ask? Simple. The Heisman Trophy has a great amount of websites and polls throughout the year to gauge the pulse of the voting public. Yet there was no such poll for college basketball, which has four major player of the year awards.
Now, here we are.
Without further ado, let’s get to the first results of the season -- the closest opening poll in its four-year history.
-- The 25-point separation between Robinson and Sullinger is, by far, the closest opening poll so far. The four-point difference between Sullinger and McDermott is also the closest gap between second and third place in the history of the opening poll.
-- Important to note: Votes for this initial tally were due at 5 p.m. on Monday. In other words, Robinson led even before his 27-point, 14-rebound effort in KU's 92-74 Big Monday rout of Baylor.
-- Potential good news for McDermott. The past two players of the year -- Turner and Fredette -- were third in the first poll of those seasons.
-- Only one player from this initial list, Sullinger, was on the final AnnArbor.com poll from last season.
-- Nine conferences (Big 12, Big Ten, MVC, SEC, ACC, Big East, Big Sky, Pac 12, MAC) were represented among the 17 players listed in the first ballot. Two schools, Kentucky and North Carolina, had two players listed.
-- It is clearly the Year of the Versatile Forward. The top seven vote-getters, and nine of the top 10, are all listed as forwards for their respective teams.