Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield and University of Connecticut (UCONN) Huskies forward Breanna Stewart won the John Wooden award for male and female Player of the Year at the 2nd Annual ESPN College Basketball Awards last Friday.
“It feels great,” said Hield. “You got to stay humble and keep working because the next level is right ahead.”
The award show provided more opportunities for men’s basketball players to receive awards than for the women’s players. Five men’s basketball players walked away with awards while one women’s basketball player received an award.
Hield walked away with both the Wooden award and the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award. The 6’4” guard helped the Sooners reach the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament this year, averaging 25 points per game and shooting at 46 percent from beyond the arc, according to Oklahoma Intercollegiate Athletics.
Wooden Award finalist Kelsey Mitchell averaged 26.3 points per game and shot at 40 percent in three-pointers this season. She assisted the Ohio State Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 this year.
“Every day has been a highlight,” said Mitchell in regards to this season. “We’re building. I think [with] us building, every moment is great.”
Kentucky sophomore standout Tyler Ulis earned the Bob Cousy Point Guard Award. He mentioned that his IQ on the floor was a factor in his success this season.
“I just was honored and surprised,” said Ulis about being nominated. “I just try to go out there and lead my team and get guys involved.”
Denzel Valentine of Michigan State won the Julius Erving Small Forward Award. Valentine was named Big Ten Player of the Year, according to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“To get an award like that, a prestigious award under Julius Erving’s name is huge” said Valentine. “I’m blessed and honored to be in this position.”
Wooden Award finalist A’ja Wilson of the South Carolina Gamecocks is the second player in SEC conference history to win both Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
“We were undefeated in the tournament and during the regular season with the SEC,” Wilson said.
Utah sophomore Jakob Poeltl won the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award. Utah had the second best record in the Pac-12 conference this season, being 27-9 overall.
“It was nice to see somebody get the award in my name that deserved it,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I think that Jakob is going to be a great player in the NBA.”
Poeltl averaged 9.1 rebounds and 17.2 points per game. He also shot at 65 percent in field goals, according to University of Utah Athletics. The Utes were runners up in the Pac-12 tournament.
“The Pac-12 this year has been unbelievably even,” said Poeltl. “There’s so many good teams.”
Rachel Banham of the Minnesota Golden Gophers was also a finalist for the John Wooden Award. Banham averaged 28.6 points per game and shot at 46 percent from the 3-point line. A game-winning shot she made got the attention of Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant via Twitter.
“I was actually doing an interview and our media lady turned and was like ‘oh my gosh, Kobe just tweeted at you’ and I was like ‘no way’,” Banham said. “Being able to meet him, I didn’t expect that, I was so excited.”
Georges Niang of Iowa State became the winner of the Karl Malone Power Forward award. He averaged 20.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, according to ESPN.