Yahoo! Sports’ All-American Team
For the first eight games of the season, the best player in the country wasn’t even the best player on his own team. Duke’s Nolan Smith was fine with point guard Kyrie Irving receiving all of the attention. It’s not like it wasn’t deserved.
Duke was the best team in America.
And it wasn’t even close.
“We’re rolling right now,” Smith said in early December. “We feel like we can do some special things.”
Three months later, that belief hasn’t changed. The only difference is that Smith – and not the injured Irving – is the main reason the Blue Devils are confident heading into this week’s ACC tournament in Greensboro.
Smith is averaging 21.6 points and 5.2 assists for the Blue Devils, who finished 27-4 overall and 13-3 in the ACC. A senior, Smith was even better in conference games, when he scored 23.4 points per contest for a Duke squad that should earn no worse than a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Most teams would’ve crumbled after losing a player such as Irving, who hasn’t played since injuring his toe on Dec. 4. But Smith refused to let that happen at Duke, and as a result the Blue Devils have a legitimate shot to win a second straight national championship.
For his efforts on the court and his leadership off of it, Smith has been selected as the Yahoo! Sports National Player of the Year.
The honor shouldn’t come as a surprise to Smith, whose name has been mentioned in player of the year discussions throughout the past few months. Smith edged out BYU’s Jimmer Fredette and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger in the race for the award.
“Right now I’m running my own race – my team’s race,” Smith said last month. “If I get mentioned with those guys it’d be an honor, it’d be a privilege. But as long as Duke is winning, I’m happy.”
Also earning accolades for a successful 2010-11 season is Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, who has been chosen as Yahoo! Sports’ National Coach of the Year.
No conference in the country this season was as tough as the Big East, yet Brey’s team managed to finish second – just one game behind Pittsburgh – despite losing standout forward Luke Harangody and starting point guard Tory Jackson.
Eighth-ranked Notre Dame will take a 25-5 record into this week’s Big East tournament. The Fighting Irish tout wins over seven ranked opponents – including Pittsburgh on the road – and have lost just one game since Jan. 16.
Judging from his comments a few months ago, Brey probably isn’t all that surprised with his squad’s success.
“This has a chance to be as good of a team as we’ve had here,” the 11th-year coach said. “They’ve been there. They’ve been through adversity last year. They’ve seen a little bit of everything. They have a nice way about them and they love playing together.”
Here are the rest of Yahoo! Sports’ All-Americans along with a list of award winners.
F JaJuan Johnson, Purdue, senior – The analysts who wrote off Purdue after Robbie Hummel’s preseason knee injury clearly underestimated Johnson, who averaged 20.5 points and 8.1 rebounds for a Boilermakers squad that is 25-6 and finished second in the Big Ten with a record of 14-4. The 6-foot-10 Johnson is as lethal from the perimeter as he in the paint, and his ability to run the court like a guard often leads to easy baskets. Purdue is a Final Four contender because of Johnson, who scored 20 or more points in 18 games.
F Marcus Morris, Kansas, junior – It’s hard to ignore the best player on a 29-2 team – especially when Bill Self labels him as the best all-around player he’s ever coached at Kansas. A potential NBA lottery pick, Morris averaged 18.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in Big 12 action despite playing just 29 minutes per contest. Whether he’s dunking over a defender, draining a 3-pointer from the top of the key, slashing through the paint for a layup or throwing an alley-oop pass to his brother, Markieff, there isn’t much Morris can’t do. Morris was the main reason Kansas won its seventh straight Big 12 title.
F Jared Sullinger, Ohio State, freshman – Rarely does a team get better after losing the national player of the year but, thanks to Sullinger, that’s exactly what has happened in the wake of Evan Turner’s departure at Ohio State. Sullinger averages 17.1 points and 9.8 rebounds for the country’s No. 1-ranked team. Coached by his father, Satch, in high school, Sullinger is often praised for his basketball IQ, footwork and all-around skill set. Equally important is that the future top 10 draft pick hardly carries himself like a star, which has been huge for a team whose main strength is its chemistry.
G Jimmer Fredette, BYU, senior – No one in college basketball this season created as big of a buzz as Fredette, who averaged a national-best 27.9 points along with 4.3 assists. Fredette scored more than 20 points in 27 of his 31 games while surpassing the 30-point plateau seven times. He scored in the 40s on three occasions. With Fredette leading the way, BYU went 28-3 and was ranked as high as No. 3 before the suspension of leading rebounder Brandon Davies threatened to derail the Cougars’ season. Even without Davies, BYU is still a Final Four threat because of Fredette.
G Nolan Smith, Duke, senior – Duke was ranked No. 1 in the country and started the season with 15 straight wins mainly because of Smith, who stepped up his game when the Blue Devils lost point guard Kyrie Irving to a season-ending toe injury. Smith averaged 21.6 points and 5.2 assists for the Blue Devils, who finished the regular season 27-4 overall and 13-3 in the ACC. A starter on last season’s NCAA title team, Smith shot 47 percent from the field and scored 20 or more points on three occasions. He averaged 32 points in two games against ACC champion North Carolina.
F Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State, sophomore
F Derrick Williams, Arizona, sophomore
G Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame, senior
G Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin, sophomore
G Kemba Walker, Connecticut, junior
F Terrence Jones, Kentucky, freshman
F Tristan Thompson, Texas, freshman
C Jordan Williams, Maryland, sophomore
G John Jenkins, Vanderbilt, sophomore
G Jacob Pullen, Kansas State, senior
Marshon Brooks, Providence, senior; Kenneth Faried, Morehead State, senior; Jordan Hamilton, Texas, sophomore; Dwight Hardy, St. John’s, senior; Tu Holloway, Xavier, junior; Brandon Knight, Kentucky, freshman; Rick Jackson, Syracuse, senior; Jon Leuer, Wisconsin, senior; E’Twaun Moore, Purdue, senior; Markieff Morris, Kansas, junior; Chandler Parsons, Florida, senior; Kyle Singler, Duke, senior; Nikola Vucevic, USC, junior; Brad Wanamaker, Pittsburgh, senior; Tyler Zeller, North Carolina, junior.
Player of the year: Nolan Smith, Duke
Coach of the year: Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Freshman of the year: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Newcomer of the year: Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
Defensive player of the year: John Henson, North Carolina
Sixth man of the year: Doron Lamb, Kentucky
Most improved: Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt
Most underrated: David Lighty, Ohio State