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Hornets' Paul near-unanimous Rookie of Year choice

OKLAHOMA CITY -- At least one person out there thinks there
was an NBA rookie who had a better season than Chris Paul. And that only gives the New Orleans point guard a little extra incentive.

Paul was a runaway choice for the NBA's Rookie of the Year award
Wednesday, receiving all but one of the 125 first-place votes from
a panel of media members from across the United States and Canada.
Utah guard Deron Williams -- who was taken with the No. 3 pick in
last year's draft, one spot ahead of Paul -- received the only other
first-place vote.

"That's even more motivation right there," Paul said. "It's
an honor to get 124 out of 125, but that one, that one, that's just
motivation for next year."

By helping the Hornets double their win total in a season where they were forced out of their home city because of Hurricane Katrina, Paul earned the rookie honor by the largest margin since
San Antonio's David Robinson was a unanimous choice in 1990.

Paul led all rookies in points (16.1), assists (7.8), steals
(2.2), double-doubles (21), minutes played (36.4) and
triple-doubles (2). He also became the second NBA rookie to lead
the league in steals, joining Brevin Knight.

"I'm just a competitor. I'm two totally different people when
I'm on the court and when I'm off the court," Paul said. "Going
into every game, I never feel like our team is the underdog. Every
game, no matter who we're playing."

The 6-foot point guard left Wake Forest after his sophomore
season to enter the NBA, and helped the Hornets -- who played most
of their home games in Oklahoma City -- win 38 games a year after
they won just 18. They remained in the playoff race until the final
week of the season.

Paul was expected to miss two weeks after tearing a ligament on
the inside of his right thumb in January. Instead, he decided to
come back after missing only one game. He also fought through
injuries to his ribs and tailbone, and his presence helped the
Hornets rise to sixth in the Western Conference at the All-Star
break.

Upon his speedy return from the thumb injury, Paul said: "I
only get one rookie season."

He said the hardest part of his season was watching his team
play without him for four games -- one with the thumb injury and
three with bruised ribs.

"Especially the kind of season we were having, I didn't want to be on the bench," Paul said. "I wanted to experience all of it.
Like I said, you only get one rookie year, so I wanted to take it
all in. If there was any way possible I could play in any game, I
wanted to."

Paul shook his head and said "Come on, Coach," when Byron
Scott told the crowd his point guard was tough in part because "he
had a bigger brother who would beat him up when he was little, on
and off the basketball court."

"He was real feisty. We fought every day," said C.J. Paul, who
lives with Chris and serves as his manager. "My mom and dad give
me credit for toughening him up but he was always the tough one."

After the season, Scott gave Paul a piece of paper with
statistics he thinks Paul can achieve in his second year --
improving in every area except blocked shots and minutes played.

Paul said he would trade in his trophy for the opportunity to
participate in the playoffs and said he didn't think the honor
meant he had proven himself.

"We didn't win a championship, so there's still a lot more I
feel like I can do," Paul said.

Paul is the second Hornets player to win the award, joining Larry Johnson (1991-92). Emeka Okafor of the Charlotte Bobcats won
the award last year.