Big 12 player of the year
Kansas’ Thomas Robinson
For two years, Thomas Robinson was a Kansas role player behind stars like twins Marcus and Markieff Morris and Cole Aldrich.
But when those big men moved on to the pros, Robinson stepped out of the shadows in a big way.
Robinson hasn’t just emerged as the Tribune-Herald ’s Big 12 player of the year, he’s also a top candidate for national player of the year.
The 6-10, 240-pound power forward is the Big 12’s second-leading scorer with an 18-point average and leads the league with an 11.9 rebounding average. The big man has been a major reason why the Jayhawks are the No. 3 team in the country and won the Big 12 regular-season title again.
“He’s obviously had a fabulous year,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He’s been so consistent from a production standpoint throughout the season. Just pencil him in and you know he’s going to produce. He’s been a treat to coach and is certainly deserving of any postseason accolades.”
During his first two seasons at Kansas, Robinson was anything but a star. As a freshman, he averaged 2.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game before averaging 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds as a sophomore.
With the Morris twins gone to the NBA, Robinson had to step up for the Jayhawks to maintain their usual level of success. He has recorded 22 double-doubles this season and ranks second in the Big 12 with a 53.1 field-goal percentage.
“Thomas had three lottery picks ahead of him,” Self said. “He averaged 15 minutes last year, but when opportunity knocked he certainly made the most of it. Even when he doesn’t have his best game, he’ll have 15 points and 10 rebounds on a bad night.”
Robinson has delivered in the Jayhawks’ biggest games as he’s averaged 19.8 points and 12.3 rebounds against eight ranked teams.
In the most pivotal game of the season, Robinson collected 28 points and 12 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ 87-86 overtime thriller over rival Missouri on Feb. 25 at Allen Fieldhouse.
Robinson scored 18 points after halftime and converted a three-point play in the closing seconds of regulation when he scored, drew a foul and hit a free throw.
He then came up with a big blocked shot to send the game into overtime.
“His motor is always running, and that makes him difficult to defend,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “He always plays at a high level. He’s got really good skills because he can bring the ball up the court, and he can hit point blank shots and 15-footers. He’s always a man on the boards.”
Newcomer of the year
Baylor’s Pierre Jackson
There isn’t a more exciting player in the Big 12 than Pierre Jackson.
The dynamic 5-10 point guard was a big reason why Baylor stayed in the top 10 much of the year and finished the regular season with a 25-6 record.
He’s the Tribune-Herald ’s newcomer of the year in a tight race over Iowa State’s Royce White. Jackson’s athleticism and versatility impress Big 12 coaches.
“He’s such an important part of Baylor’s team,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “He’s obviously got great speed with the ball and can change direction and pace. He can also pull up for a 23-foot shot, and when you’ve got that, you’ve got a Catch-22 situation on your hands.”
It’s not unusual for junior college transfers to take a year to adjust to major college basketball. But after leading College of Southern Idaho to a NJCAA championship last season, Jackson has made a remarkably quick transition to Division I basketball and ranks among the Big 12 leaders in several categories.
Jackson ranks 11th in the league with a 13.5 scoring average and is third with 5.7 assists per game. He ranks second with 1.7 steals per game and is tied for second with a 45.3 3-point percentage. His 82.9 free throw percentage is seventh best in the league.
Most importantly, he’s made the Bears a better basketball team.
“Pierre’s IQ is unbelievable,” Baylor forward Perry Jones said. “His total game makes everyone on the floor better. He brings a lot of energy and gets to the paint, and creates for everybody else.”
Jackson has also been a tremendous clutch player as he’s made big shots and dished out assists at key moments.
“Pierre has a knack for taking over the game in crucial moments,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We knew his skill level coming in, but you don’t know how someone will perform in the clutch until you’re in the battle. But he thrives in that moment.”
Coach of the year
Kansas’ Bill Self
Bill Self has done such a remarkable job in his nine seasons at Kansas that he’s sometimes taken for granted.
Ho hum, another Big 12 championship.
Self has won or tied for eight straight Big 12 titles, an astounding achievement in such a deep and talented league. He never did a better job than this season, and that’s why he’s the Tribune-Herald ’s coach of the year.
The Jayhawks lost four of their top five scorers from last year’s team that finished 35-3 and reached the Elite Eight before losing to Virginia Commonwealth.
Senior guard Tyshawn Taylor was the only returning starter after averaging 9.3 points and 4.5 assists per game. Forward Thomas Robinson was a role player who averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds off the bench.
Under Self’s guidance, Robinson and Taylor have emerged as two of the top players in the league this season. Robinson ranks second in the Big 12 with 18 points per game while averaging a league-high 11.9 rebounds. Taylor is the Big 12’s fourth-leading scorer with a 17.2 average while averaging 4.9 assists.
Other players have slid comfortably into their roles. Center Jeff Withey is averaging 9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds and has recorded a league-high 3.2 blocks per game. Guard Elijah Johnson is averaging 8.9 points and 3.9 assists and guard Travis Releford is averaging 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds.
They helped the Jayhawks finish 26-5 during the regular season and win the Big 12 with a 16-2 record.
“This team has been fun to coach,” Self said. “We’re not quite as deep or talented as some teams we’ve had, but the guys play great at opportune times. Our bench has gotten better throughout the season, and we’ve been lucky from an injury standpoint. I really believe this team is operating as close to their ceiling as any team we’ve had.”
Self was a slim choice for coach of the year over Missouri’s Frank Haith, who was hired before this season from the University of Miami.
After losing powerful forward Laurence Bowers to a knee injury, the Tigers have relied on a highly effective four-guard offense. Missouri finished the regular season with a 27-4 overall record and a 14-4 conference mark.
“I’ve got good players and a good staff,” Haith said. “I’m really proud of the young men and the people around me. The coaches in this league are phenomenal. I feel blessed to compete against some of the best every night.”
But the Jayhawks won the most critical game of the season when they knocked off the Tigers, 87-86, in overtime on Feb. 25 at Allen Fieldhouse.
“Kansas has the best support and best tradition,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “They’ve got one of the best coaches in the country and continue to get the best players. But to be able to do what they’ve done with guys leaving and injuries is an incredible feat.”
Freshman of the year
Oklahoma State’s Le’Bryan Nash
When Oklahoma State landed Le’Bryan Nash out of Dallas Lincoln High School, coach Travis Ford knew the talented forward needed to contribute immediately to a young team.
Nash didn’t disappoint as he led all Big 12 freshmen with a 13.3 scoring average while pulling down five rebounds per game. He’s the Tribune-Herald ’s freshman of the year over Baylor forward Quincy Miller.
Ford counted on the 6-7 Nash to contribute to the Cowboys’ attack in a lot of ways.
“Le’Bryan has always been talented offensively,” Ford said. “Earlier in the year, we asked him to score more in the post, but he’s more effective on the perimeter and shooting 3s. We were forcing the issue by putting him in the post, and he had to adjust his game a little bit.”
Like most freshmen, Nash also had to learn how to play better defense in his first season of Division I basketball.
“During the first couple of weeks, Le’Bryan struggled to understand defensive concepts and how hard he needs to play,” Ford said. “But he came around. He’s had to guard big men and guards, and he’s done a great job of improving.”
Best sixth man
Missouri’s Michael Dixon
In a loaded Missouri backcourt, it’s difficult for everybody to start.
But that didn’t stop junior guard Michael Dixon from having an outstanding year.
Dixon came off the bench in all 31 games during the regular season and ranked 12th in the Big 12 with a 13.3 scoring average.
Dixon delivered a superb all-around season as he led the league with an 89.5 free throw percentage while shooting 48.1 from the field. He’s also been solid defensively by averaging 1.2 steals.
Missouri’s Phil Pressey
When Missouri lost forward Laurence Bowers to a knee injury, the complexion of the team changed.
The Tigers switched to a four-guard attack and a ballhawking defense that always looked for ways to create pressure in the backcourt.
Nobody was better than sophomore guard Phil Pressey, who led the Big 12 with 65 steals during the regular season.
Pressey has consistently turned games with his quick, aggressive play to earn defensive player of the year honors.
Pressey’s defensive talent was evident as soon as he stepped on the Missouri campus last season as he finished his freshman year with 61 steals. He’s gotten better throughout his sophomore year to emerge as a defensive leader.
|F||Thomas Robinson||Kansas||Jr||6-10||18.0||11.9||2nd in Big 12 with 53.1 FG%|
|F||Royce White||Iowa State||So||6-8||12.9||9.2||5th with 5.16 assists|
|G||Tyshawn Taylor||Kansas||Sr||6-3||17.2||1.8||4.9 assists|
|G||Pierre Jackson||Baylor||Jr||5-10||13.5||3.0||3rd with 5.65 assists|
|G||Marcus Denmon||Missouri||Sr||6-3||18.0||5.1||88.8 FT%|
|Player of the year: Thomas Robinson, Kansas||Coach of the year: Bill Self, Kansas|
|Freshman of the year: Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma St.||Newcomer of the year: Pierre Jackson, Baylor|
|Top defender: Phil Pressey, Missouri||Best sixth man: Michael Dixon, Missouri|
|F||Quincy Acy||Baylor||Sr||6-7||12.1||7.2||3rd with 1.97 blocks|
|F||Ricardo Ratliffe||Missouri||Sr||6-8||13.8||7.5||1st with 70.8 FG%|
|G||Rodney McGruder||Kansas State||Jr||6-4||15.5||5.4||9th with 80.4 FT%|
|G||Keiton Page||Oklahoma St.||Sr||5-9||16.8||1.9||1st with 95 3-pointers|
|G||J’Covan Brown||Texas||Jr||6-1||20.0||3.1||1st in scoring|
|F||Le’Bryan Nash||Oklahoma State||6-7||13.3||5.0||73.0 FT%|
|F||Quincy Miller||Baylor||6-10||11.5||5.0||79.8 FT%|
|F||Michael Cobbins||Oklahoma State||6-8||5.3||5.7||5th with 1.48 blocks|
|G||Angel Rodriguez||Kansas State||5-11||7.9||2.4||10th with 3.24 assists|
|G||Myck Kabongo||Texas||6-1||9.8||3.0||4th with 5.29 assists|
— all stats through end of regular season
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