UCONN'S SHABAZZ NAPIER NAMED
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Memphis' Nichols named Rookie of the Year; Cincinnati's Cronin is Coach of the Year
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – UConn guard Shabazz Napier, a unanimous American Athletic Conference First Team selection and a finalist for the top individual honors in college basketball, was named as the first American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Wednesday by Commissioner Mike Aresco.
The award was one of eight individual honors presented during a luncheon at the Gibson Guitar Factory following voting by the league's 10 head coaches.
Cincinnati, which won a share of the first American Athletic Conference regular-season title, had three individual award winners as forward Justin Jackson was named Defensive Player of the Year, guard Sean Kilpatrick was the recipient of the conference's Sportsmanship Award, and coach Mick Cronin earned Coach of the Year honors from his counterparts.
Memphis had two winners as forward Austin Nichols was chosen as the Rookie of the Year, while guard Michael Dixon Jr., earned the league's Sixth Man Award. Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell was named Most Improved Player, while Temple guard Jimmy McDonnell was chosen as the Scholar-Athlete of the Year by the conference's academic affairs committee.
A senior from Roxbury, Mass., Napier established himself as arguably the nation's top all-around player in 2013-14. He led the Huskies in scoring (17.8 points per game), rebounding (6.0 per game) and assists (5.2 per game), becoming the only player in school history to lead UConn in all three categories in the regular season. He shot 42.6 from the field and 40.4 percent from 3-point range, and he enters postseason play ranked seventh on UConn's career scoring list (1,790 points). Napier is second in school history in career steals (235) and fourth in assists (611).
Napier is second in the conference in scoring, assists and free throw shooting (.877) and is third in The American in steals at 1.8 per game. Napier averaged 19.3 points in conference games as he led UConn to a 12-5 finish in The American and a 24-6 overall record. Napier is a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award and is on the final watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, the Naismith Trophy, the Senior CLASS Award and the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award.
Cronin earned American Coach of the Year honors after he led Cincinnati to a 26-5 overall record, a 15-3 conference mark and a share of the first American Athletic Conference regular-season championship. The Bearcats enter the postseason ranked No. 13 in this week's Associated Press poll and No. 12 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll.
Jackson was tabbed as the top defensive player in the American after he led the conference in blocks (2.9 per game) and was fifth in rebounding (7.1 per game) and field goal percentage (.548). He is a key inside presence on both ends for a Cincinnati squad that ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense (58.4 points per game) and 17th nationally in field goal percentage defense (39.4 percent).
Nichols was chosen as The American's top rookie after he averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds for the Tigers and was the lone unanimous choice on the conference's All-Rookie Team. He was named American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week four times, including in each of the last three weeks of the regular season.
Harrell, who was named Most Improved Player, enjoyed a breakout sophomore season for Louisville as the forward averaged 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and led The American in field goal percentage (.612). He averaged 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 2012-13.
Dixon earned Sixth Man of the Year accolades after he averaged 12.2 points and shot 48.1 percent from the field, despite starting just four of the Tigers' 31 games. He came off the bench in all 18 conference games to average 13.3 points and shot 50 percent from the floor against conference opponents.
Kilpatrick, who joined Napier and Louisville guard Russ Smith as unanimous selections to the All-Conference First Team, was honored by the conference head coaches with the league's Sportsmanship Award. After redshirting in the 2009-10 season, Kilpatrick went on to enjoy one of the great careers in Bearcat history. He returned for his senior season went on to lead The American in scoring (20.9 points per game) and was chosen as a Sporting News All-America first team choice and is a candidate for the Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy and Oscar Robertson Trophy.
2014 American Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Honors
Player of the Year
Shabazz Napier, G, UConn
Coach of the Year
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Rookie of the Year
Austin Nichols, F, Memphis
Scholar-Athlete of the Year
Jimmy McDonnell, F, Temple
Defensive Player of the Year
Justin Jackson, F, Cincinnati
Sixth Man of the Year
Michael Dixon Jr., G, Memphis
Most Improved Player
Montrezl Harrell, F, Louisville
Sean Kilpatrick, G, Cincinnati
Official release from American Athletic Conference