Amherst College point guards Aaron Toomey, Andrew Olson match honors
COURTESY AMHERST COLLEGE
Amherst College point guard Aaron Toomey was named the national player of the year in Division III. He leads the Lord Jeffs into the championship game Sunday. Purchase photo reprints »
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Andrew Olson, left, led Amherst College to its lone national championship in Division III. Purchase photo reprints »
For Aaron Toomey, the comparisons to former Amherst College men’s basketball team greats are inevitable. And why not?
After a tremendous season in which he averaged 17.4 points and nearly five assists per game, the Lord Jeffs’ point guard has his team on the precipice of its second NCAA Division III national championship. Already one of only two juniors named to the 2013 National Association of Basketball Coaches Division III All-America first team, Toomey took home NABC Player of the Year honors on Monday.
So naturally, those who have watched Toomey this year have no doubt been reminded of another championship-caliber Amherst College point guard — Andrew Olson.
Olson, a 2008 graduate who helped the Jeffs win their first national championship in 2007 and then led them back to the finals a year later, was also recognized as NABC Player of the Year. He shared the honors during the 2007 championship season and won the award outright in 2008.
Olson’s name is splattered all over the school’s record books. His lasting mark on the program is a purple championship banner pinned to the wooden LeFrak Gymnasium walls.
Through three years, Toomey has begun to set his own statistical milestones at Amherst, but a win against the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Sunday would go a long way in blurring the lines between he and his predecessor.
“It’s incredibly humbling,” Toomey said. “Andrew was an incredible player here, and it’s really an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as him. I wouldn’t go that far, myself, in saying that yet, especially when he has a championship ring and I don’t have that yet. But hopefully I’ll take another step closer here this week in Atlanta.”
Singularly focused on claiming his own title against the Crusaders, Toomey said he hasn’t stopped to consider his own legacy, either on its own or in the context of Olson’s. But others aren’t shy in comparing and contrasting the two.
“First of all, Andrew was a pass-first guy,” Amherst College coach David Hixon said. “That’s what he wanted to do. He was a magician with the ball, great passer. He could score, but didn’t really want to score.”
That unselfish distribution of the ball helped Olson become the Jeffs all-time (758) and single-game (15) assist leader. Hixon’s current point guard also has a knack for passing — Toomey was third in the NESCAC with 4.9 assists per game this season — but is more comfortable in a scoring role.
“Aaron is a real combo, he wants to score,” Hixon said. “And he’s probably a better scorer than he is passer, though he is a good passer. But it reverses with him. Andrew could’ve been that scorer, but he scored sort of when he had to. Aaron looks at it the other way around.”
Toomey agreed, saying “I think we’re very different players. Andrew was obviously a guy that got his teammates involved a little more than I do.”
Most coaches dream of the opportunity to work with even one player with the basketball IQ and natural talent of someone like Toomey or Olson. But for all his recruiting good fortunes, don’t ask Hixon to pick one over the other.
“If somebody said to me ‘Choose one,’ I don’t know if I could,” he said. “It would be unfair, really. I’d like to see them play against each other.”
For all their differences on the court, Toomey and Olson share one striking similarity — an unwavering drive to help their team and win.
“I think for both us, the main thing going into our minds, was do whatever it took to help this team win,” Toomey said. “And Andrew had a lot of talent around him, just as I do.”
Willy Workman, a senior captain on this year’s team and native of Northampton, remembers watching Olson play during Amherst College’s championship years.
“As a point guard, the only thing that really matters is if you’re a winner or not,” he said. “If you’re willing to do whatever it takes to be successful for your team and have your team be successful. In that regard, they both have that characteristic in spades.”
Like Olson, Toomey’s legacy with the Jeffs will largely be defined by Sunday’s championship outcome. Though he sits just 308 points shy of the school’s all-time scoring record with a full season left to play, it’s the not the individual accolades that Toomey wants his time at Amherst to be remembered by.
And he doesn’t want a potential national title framed in the context of personal achievement, either.
“I’d love to be part of a championship team like Andrew was, but going in, I’m not really thinking about what this championship will do for me,” Toomey said. “It’s just special to be part of this group of guys here. We’re all like brothers, and I hope I can go out and help this team win no matter what it takes from me.”