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Award or not, Darrun Hilliard knows he's the Big East's top player

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Villanova's senior guard has come off a summer of maturation and should be considered one of the country's top players. Well if he is, he thinks the Big East missed the message

Darrun Hilliard during Big East Media Day
Darrun Hilliard during Big East Media Day
Villanova Men's Basketball

Manhattan, New York - Eight months after it all happened, after they sprinted through the court and paraded Madison Square Garden, it still stung. It throbbed with annoyance.

The images of Seton Hall's Sterling Gibbs sinking a game-winning buzzer beater over Villanova in the first round of last season's Big East tournament was the first image Darrun Hilliard saw when he came back to the Garden.

But he brushed it off and walked into the Garden on Wednesday with his head held high, only to find out he wasn't chosen for preseason Player of the Year. Instead it was Georgetown's D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera.

Though the Garden brought back painful memories, it was the present that got Hilliard talking.

He's angry. He's hungry.

"I think that's wrong. I don't think it's right at all," Hilliard said turning a scowl when asked about if he was snubbed for the preseason award on Wednesday morning. "I know a lot of people know that and I'm glad my teammates feel that way and I feel that way honestly."

And it didn't stop there. Not by a long shot.

"Yes [it's me] or one of these guys, the best team and the best player," Hilliard responded when asked if he believed he was the best player in the conference.

He's taken another step in his game, -Ryan Arcidiacono on Hilliard

"Why can't it be JayVaughn [Pinkston]? Why can't it be Daniel [Ochefu]? Why can't it be Ryan [Arcidiacono]? I don't really understand [how Hilliard wasn't selected], but maybe I'm just being too frank. I don't understand why you pick the team to win it all but not a player on the team to be player of the year. Everyone has his or her own opinion. I have mine. They have theirs. It's going to be a fun year."

It's easy to say that this season, Villanova will have a different Hilliard, in mind and in talent. Though he was fuming, it wasn't just Hilliard who thought he got snubbed. Arcidiacono said that he was more surprised that Hilliard was named to the Big East preseason Second Team than he was of his own name.

For Arcidiacono's roommate, he said that seeing him not get that honor "kind of makes him mad."

"He's taken another step in his game," Arcidiacono said. "He went to a bunch of camps this summer and learned from them. He's looked great in preseason. But that's a hell of a surprise for me. D'Vauntes is one hell of a player too. But I think [Hilliard] gets it done by the end of the year."

The sentiment was also consistent with Ochefu but said "it's more about what you do when the lights come on." Hilliard trained at elite camps this summer, improved his game in preseason but still feels as though he's not being respected as an elite player.

At this point, saying he has a chip on his shoulder would be an understatement.

But, when he was asked about the incoming freshman class consisting of Georgetown's Issac Copeland and Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead, he was more focused on other issues than younger players' hype.

"I didn't even know who you were talking about honestly," Hilliard said when asked if Isaiah Whitehead or Issac Copeland would be a threat to Villanova. "We the big dogs man. They still have a lot to learn. It is what it is."

Hilliard sat in his navy-folding chair, his hands folded by his lap, his russet face staring into the middle of the crowd. He smirked when he read through the awards listings on his table and peered over to JayVaughn Pinkston and just nodded.

At this point, saying he has a chip on his shoulder would be an understatement. He has a mountain full of expectations on his back.

"I don't believe the committee is right. They can look into the numbers or whatever they do, they didn't do the right job," Hilliard said. "I can sit here and say all I want about what's right or wrong, but it only matters what these three guys [Arcidiacono, Pinkston and Ochefu] think of me. They can say whatever about us. They can say whatever about me. As long as they're saying that we're the hardest working team in America, that's all that matters."

This is a different Hilliard. A senior guard who feels disrespected in his conference and is an elite talent in the eyes of many across the country. To Hilliard, this is just the beginning, however.

And he's ready for another chance at a title, this time a tournament title. And by that time, in his mind, there won't be any more doubt about who the best player in the conference is.