Time to take a break from all this Bennett rumor madness and reflect on a great season that is suddenly behind us. Here now, are Stadium Way’s first annual End of the Season Awards for basketball.
Player of the Year: Kyle Weaver, G – I’ve never seen any Cougar player in any sport do as many things well as Kyle Weaver. 12.2 points per game (19th in the Pac-10). 5.1 rebounds per game (17th Pac-10 and higher than Robbie Cowgill). 4.3 assists per game (5th Pac-10). 1.7 steals per game (4th Pac-10). 8th in conference assist-to-turnover ratio. He shot 46.3% from the floor. His only weakness, according to some people, was three-point shooting (he shot 23.7% in 2006-07). This year, he improved on that by shooting 36.4% all while taking 28 more attempts and making threes in big games and big situations. Oh yeah, it’s also worth noting that he’s a NBA-caliber defender (more on that later). There won’t ever be another Kyle Weaver, and it will be tough to see him go. If there was one player from this squad whose jersey might deserve to be retired, it’s Kyle’s. The good news is that we can still watch Kyle continue his career next year as a member of the NBA. NBADraft.net projects Kyle at #24 to San Antonio (which would be a near-perfect fit for him), but I think he has lottery-pick talent.
Offensive Player of the Year: Derrick Low, G. It’s hard to deny Taylor Rochestie and his 4.7 assists per game this award, but I have a feeling he will be a sure thing for it next year. Low deserves it this year – his team high 14.1 points per game is good for 12th in the conference. I know, 14.1 doesn’t sound like much, but when you play on one of the 10 slowest college teams in the nation, that number becomes a lot more impressive. Low was also third in the conference in made threes – led by only Ryan Appleby (UW’s all-time leader) and some guy named O.J. Mayo.
Low also has a hidden talent – he’s a great shooter inside the arc. Low made 74 of 145 attempts from 2-point range, good for a 51.0% clip. 50% is a very good percentage for a low post player (Baynes shoots 60%). Derrick does it from the guard position, all while being part of a three guard attack that helped the Cougs lead the conference in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio. If you don’t believe me about Low’s talent, just ask Alabama coach Mark Gottfried:
“Derrick Low is one of the most underrated players in the nation. Period. He is really, really, really good,” said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried…. “I’m saying he’s really good. If he ends up having a career in the NBA like [John] Stockton or [Steve] Nash, it would not shock me. He’s that good.” (ESPN)
Defensive Player of the Year: Kyle Weaver, G – An obvious selection here, but let’s not understate how good he was. He finished fourth in the conference in steals (1.7 SPG) and shut down any number of good players. Not just good players, but players who can attack multiple ways. OJ Mayo (6 for 15 on 2/9), Ryan Appleby (2 for 8 on 1/5), Matt Bouldin (0 for 9), and a host of other players who he limited with his play on the defensive end. It was fitting when the one word chosen by Cowgill and Low to describe Weaver was “cool”. He made great defense and offense look so effortless, and so……well, cool.
Newcomer of the Year: Stephen Sauls, G – This award goes to the best incoming freshman or transfer player. Sauls could almost earn this award just by the effort he has shown in trying to make a recovery from a scary injury in January. Sauls was knocked unconscious by an inadvertent elbow to the head and had CPR started on him before regaining consciousness. He still experiences headaches on a daily basis, according to the coaches, and in all likelihood will be unable to return to Wazzu to continue his career. It’s a shame as Sauls showed great promise as an offensive and defensive player. Sauls shot 54% in only eight games this season, and seemed like a perfect fit to replace outgoing transfers Mac Hopson and Chris Matthews. Let’s hope he gets back to good health soon, and has an opportunity to continue playing ball, regardless of the school he ends up at.
Tremendous Upside Potential Award: Abe Lodwick, G – This kid is going to be fun to watch. We didn’t see Lodwick on the court during a game this season as Tony preferred to redshirt the freshman from Bend, Oregon. Nevertheless, if you were able to look in on a practice or watch warm-ups before the game you know that Lodwick can flat out shoot. His form is near perfect and his 6’7″ height will make him difficult to defend for smaller guards and forwards (like Daven Harmeling is now). If he can get to the defensive level of our current guards he’s going to be a mainstay of future Cougar lineups.
Breakout Player of the Year: Taylor Rochestie, G – Ok, let’s be honest. We always knew Taylor would be good. What we didn’t know is just how good: A ridiculous 43% 3-point shooter this year, Rochestie added 10.4 points per game to his 4.7 assists per game (2nd in the Pac-10; he led this category for much of the year). He is horrifically efficient; leading the Pac-10 with a 2.8 assist/turnover ratio, and is always looking to involve others first. He perfomed best when it mattered most with a season-high 10 assists against Winthrop. He can also take over the game offensively, like he did with a 24 point performance during a surprising cold night for the other Cougars against Oregon State. He also wants the ball with the game on the line. He’s the kind of player Wazzu desperately needed under Dick Bennett when turnovers and missed shots cost the Cougs far too many close games. Oh yeah, there’s also that whole thing about giving up his scholarship to help the team next season. I think it’s safe to say #10 replica jerseys will fly off the shelf next fall.
Player you Should be Excited About for Next Year: Aron Baynes, C – Let’s see: 60% shooting? Check. Dominating low-post scoring and rebounding presence? Check. Playing in a Pac-10 without the Lopez twins? Check. Yoga lessons? Check. Awesomeness? Intensity? Rugby Experience? Check, check and check. If he stays out of foul trouble and secures the ball in those big hands, he’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch for one more year. Just look at that performance against North Carolina and first-team all-American Tyler Hansbrough. Or the fact he almost averaged a double-double in the tournament (13.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG).
Sixth Man Award: Daven Harmeling, F – Daven Harmeling has many of the qualities you want in a starting forward: good shooting, height, rebounding, defense, and the ability to have a big night on offense. The fact that he only started one game speaks volumes about how talented this year’s Coguar team was. Harmeling’s numbers were actually down a bit in 07-08 but you have to take into consideration the two freak injuries that sidelined Daven for some games this season. First, he broke his right thumb in practice in December. Then, he sprained an ankle, again in practice, which really shortened the Cougar bench in the final weeks of the season. Maybe we should just apply Allen Iverson’s theory of practice to Harmeling.
But few players recover from injuries like Harmeling has. A dislocated shoulder suffered in the first game of the 2005-06 season caused him to miss the entire year and receive a medical redshirt. Harmeling responded by shooting threes in practice and pre-game warmups. One-handed. And that suddenly perfected one-handed form led to Daven becoming a force from behind the arc – shooting 43% from long range the next year. This year, it was the cast on Daven’s wrist that acutally helped him find his stroke again, to the tune of a season-high 19 points in an impressive win over USC. Harmeling is a perpetual x-factor: a solid player who can burn you from out of nowhere. Just ask the three opponents he took for 20 or more points last year: Gonzaga, Arizona, and Cal. His injuries this year have slowed him and it’s a shame: he only averaged close to 12 minutes per game in the tournament. But he’s still a phenomenal player. And we’re lucky that because of an injury he returns next year.
Author’s note: Edited on 4/1/08 to include the sixth man award.