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2015 USBWA awards: one man’s vote

March 12, 2015 Columns No Comments
author_kasiecki

About a week ago, I shared how I voted for the CAA’s postseason awards. While that was quite an exercise this season, casting my USBWA ballot was a little different challenge and not just because of the scope. There’s also timing – right as conference tournaments pick up. On the national level, we vote for ten All-Americans, five freshman All-Americans, the Oscar Robertson Trophy (a national Player of the Year), the Wayman Tisdale Award (the nation’s top freshman), and the Henry Iba Award (national Coach of the Year). More locally, we also vote for ten All-District players, a district Player of the Year and a district Coach of the Year.

With that settled, in all the votes involved for this were probably not quite as challenging as the CAA postseason honors. That is in large part a testament to how competitive the CAA was this year and that included for the postseason honors.

So without further ado, here’s a look at how I voted for the USBWA postseason honors this time around and what went into them. My district is District 1, which contains all six New England states.

All-District 1 Team
Ryan Boatright, Connecticut
Kris Dunn, Providence
Scott Eatherton, Northeastern
Cedric Hankerson, Boston University
Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
LaDontae Henton, Providence
E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Wesley Saunders, Harvard
Justin Sears, Yale
Dyami Starks, Bryant

Boatright was the heart and soul of this Husky team, and while they need to win the AAC Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament he did all he could for them. Dunn was finally able to play all year and grew into a Player of the Year candidate in the Big East as he helped lead a relatively young Providence team to a fine season that will end in the NCAA Tournament. Eatherton led well-balanced Northeastern to a tie for the CAA regular season title (the championship game that they won had not been played at the time of the vote). With an expanded role, Hankerson became one of the Patriot League’s best players even while having to be a playmaker as well as a scorer. Hanlan led the ACC in scoring and was on an absolute tear in February, coming on strong after what was basically an okay start to the season. Henton closed out a terrific college career by leading Providence into the NCAA Tournament as the favorite to win Big East Player of the Year. Matthews showed lots of promise last year and blossomed this year as the leader of a much-improved Rams team. Saunders carried Harvard at times, breaking the Ivy League record for Player of the Week honors and filling the stat sheet constantly. Sears should be right there with Saunders for Ivy League Player of the Year. Starks carried Bryant all year long as they finished third with a younger team, and was a leader as complementary players developed around him.

District 1 Player of the Year: LaDontae Henton, Providence

Arguments could be made for Henton’s teammate, Kris Dunn, as well as Olivier Hanlan. I eliminate Hanlan from BC’s lack of team success and a start to the season that was just okay. For picking between the Friar stars, it’s a tough call, but I went with the guy who carried them for so much of the season with double-doubles and big baskets. Henton grew steadily over his career, culminating with a good shot at Big East Player of the Year, and he played big this year for Providence.

District 1 Coach of the Year: Ed Cooley, Providence

Several coaches got consideration for this. You couldn’t go wrong with Dan Hurley given that Rhode Island exceeded expectations that were already high. You couldn’t go wrong with Bill Herrion given the great season New Hampshire has had pretty much out of nowhere. Tim O’Shea would make sense as Bryant once again got a home game in the conference tournament. And I was giving lots of consideration to both Tommy Amaker and James Jones, but it’s tough to choose one over the other with the two teams slated to meet in the one-game playoff before the ballot was due.

I went with Cooley, who led a young Providence team to get nationally ranked at one point and to a season that will end in the NCAA Tournament. While the Friars had some good veterans, they also needed to manage some youth, as four freshmen played significant minutes, and Cooley did it all to great results.

All-America Team
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
LaDontae Henton, Providence
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Georges Niang, Iowa State
Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Bobby Portis, Arkansas
D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Delon Wright, Utah

Brogdon is perhaps the most under-appreciated player in the country because he doesn’t drop big numbers or highlight-reel plays on you, but just gets things done at both ends. Cauley-Stein became more than just a defensive menace this year to lead the deep and well-balanced Kentucky team. Grant was my call for ACC Player of the Year as he was tremendous in leading Notre Dame to a great year with his scoring and passing, the latter making the game much easier for his teammates. Henton carried Providence at times and at others was part of a dynamic duo with Kris Dunn, and had a good shot to be the Big East Player of the Year. Kaminsky had a tremendous season impacting the game in a lot of ways for Big Ten champion Wisconsin as arguably the perfect post player for that offense. Niang makes Iowa State go with his many ways to score and great passing to utilize his talented teammates. Okafor made an impact right from the get-go, at times dominating and at other times quietly beating opponents with effectiveness. It might not have been noticed much in the Kentucky-dominated SEC, but Portis broke out as a sophomore and was a big reason the Razorbacks will be in the NCAA Tournament. Russell impacted games in so many ways to carry Ohio State a lot of the season. Wright would have been my call for Pac-12 Player of the Year with the way he impacted games for Utah, not only putting up his own numbers but making teammates better.

Freshman All-America
Tyus Jones, Duke
Jahlil Okafor, Duke
D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
Melo Trimble, Maryland

Relatively speaking, this was an easy group to put together mainly because there weren’t so many who stood out so much. It didn’t take me long to come up with these five, especially compared to the deliberations to come to the ten for All-America. Jones and Okafor were as good as advertised, and while Okafor got most of the headlines, Jones was arguably as valuable to Duke this season and was a big reason for a number of their wins. Russell had a superb season as a big reason Ohio State accomplished what they did. Towns was a big part of Kentucky’s great defense and showed nice improvement offensively as the season went on. Trimble was perhaps the biggest reason Maryland was a big winner in their first season in the Big Ten, as he made an impact right away.

Oscar Robertson Trophy: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

You could go with a few others here, but admittedly I didn’t deliberate too long on this one. Kaminsky led one of the nation’s best teams with consistently solid play and his ability to affect the game on the low block or facing the basket. The numbers tell just part of the story: 18.4 points, 8.1 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game (1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio), shooting nearly 56 percent from the field including 41 percent from long range. The Badgers have lost three times all year, and in one of them, Kaminsky was out with a concussion.

Wayman Tisdale Award: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State

This one will surely catch many people’s eye. Surely, it’s a no-brainer for Jahlil Okafor, right? Not exactly. Team success isn’t as big a deal for me with this as it is for Player of the Year and All-America (and I think it’s more of a factor for All-America than the award since it’s Player of the Year and not MVP). Russell’s numbers are right there with Okafor’s in terms of overall impact, as he averages 19.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game and has a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. For good measure, he averages 1.6 steals per game and shoots 42.2 percent from long range. He’s been the Buckeyes’ best player all year long and has become known for his bounce passes, a lost art among many guards today.

My guess is Okafor will win this, and perhaps in a landslide. He’s the better pro prospect, to be sure, though Russell is a pretty good one as well. But if this award was only my call, based on what they did this season I would go with Russell by a nose.

Henry Iba Award: John Calipari, Kentucky

As is usually the case, you could go with several candidates. Dana Altman did one of his best jobs at Oregon after a tumultuous off-season. Tony Bennett did another fantastic job at Virginia, winning the ACC with a team that doesn’t have selling points to the general public and with a star player missing a month due to injury. Bob McKillop deserves consideration for leading Davidson to an outright Atlantic 10 title in their first year coming from the Southern Conference. Mark Turgeon led Maryland to a great run in their inaugural season in the Big Ten.

When Kentucky finished off a perfect regular season, this became an easier call. Yes, John Calipari has the most talent and depth, enough that people were asking last spring if this team could go undefeated. But managing this talent is far from easy, especially with the scrutiny they get and with the voices inside of players’ heads these days. Coaching this much talent means managing egos, it means managing roles and minutes, and it means getting players to buy into something bigger than themselves, which doesn’t always come easy to young guys who spent their lives before college being “the man” on their team. Sacrificing personal numbers for team success is a challenge for grown professionals, so you know it doesn’t come naturally to 18- to 22-year-old kids. Calipari has pulled that off, though, and the result is a legendary defense to lead a perfect run thus far.

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