Pac-12 awards: Who will take home the hardware?

By Griffin Adams and Griffin Adams

With the Pac-12 awards for men’s basketball set to be released on Monday, The Daily Utah Chronicle decided to hand out its own awards for the 2014-15 campaign.

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Player of the Year – Delon Wright, Utah

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Some have debated that Arizona guard T.J. McConnell belongs in this spot, but after watching both athletes compete this season, Delon Wright is definitively the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Don’t get me wrong, McConnell has a strong argument. The scrappy point guard is a coach’s dream, playing with a passion that you simply can’t teach, all while leading the Wildcats to a 26-3 record.

But Wright is simply the best player in this conference, hands down. There’s not an athlete in the Pac-12 that can stuff the stat sheet the way Wright does. While he may not score the most points or register the most assists, you’ll find Wright towards the top of a number of statistical categories. Oh, and the Runnin’ Utes are having their best season in recent memory, and Wright is a huge reason why.

 

Freshman of the Year – Stanley Johnson, Arizona

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Heading into the season, much was made of Arizona’s freshman Stanley Johnson. He was highly recruited and many saw him as a potential NBA lottery pick before he even donned a Wildcat uniform. While Johnson’s stats have fallen victim to the system that Arizona runs (and they still aren’t even bad, just not eye-popping), Johnson is by far the best freshman in this conference.

Johnson’s averages currently sit at 14.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but what really makes this kid special is his readiness to jump to the next level. He has an NBA-ready body, standing at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, and you truly don’t realize how much of a beast he is until you seem him in person. Johnson will almost certainly be a one-and-done talent, but it was fun to watch the Freshman of the Year mature throughout his rookie campaign.

 

Defensive Player of the Year – Gary Payton II, Oregon State

Wright, McConnell, Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, even Brandon Taylor, are just a few of the great defensive players that are in this league, but none have been as solid and important defensively to their team than Gary Payton II. The former SLCC guard has made his mark all around the court during his first season in Corvallis, but what sticks out most about the JUCO transfer is his defense.

Standing at just 6-foot-3, Payton II can play lockdown defense on the opposing team’s best player, all while nabbing over three steals per game, tops in the Pac-12. Throw in his 5.5 defensive rebounds per game, (again, Payton II is only 6-foot-3) and GPII has become a feared force in Oregon State’s zone defense.

 

Most Improved Player of the Year – Josh Hawkinson, Washington State

Just a season ago, Josh Hawkinson was an unknown commodity for the Cougars. His numbers did not resemble that of a quality center in the Pac-12, and his highest total of minutes played in a game last season never exceeded 13.

But Hawkinson has been completely reborn this year to the tune of 14.6 points and a conference-leading 10.9 rebounds. Hawkinson is averaging a double-double when he didn’t crack double digits in either category just a season ago. He’s generally unknown to those who don’t avidly pay attention to Pac-12 basketball, but just a sophomore, Hawkinson may become a household name in Pullman thanks to this year’s breakout season.

 

Coach of the Year – Larry Krystkowiak, Utah

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As close as the race was for some of these other awards, this might have been the closest. You’ve got Oregon’s Dana Altman, who really should be named Co-Coach of the Year after seeing three players get dismissed from the team, and two more transfer during the offseason. Currently, Oregon sits with a 23-8 record, threatening Utah for the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, and all with just three returning players from last year’s team.

But what Larry Krystkowiak has done with this program is simply remarkable. This is more of giving credit to Krystkowiak for turning this program around in four years more than anything, but he still certainly deserves it. The Runnin’ Utes are having their best season in recent memory, filled with blowout victories and a revamped Huntsman Center. Additionally, Utah has been hovering around the top 10 in the national rankings, while some have even pegged the Utes as a darkhorse squad to make it to the Final Four. The Pac-12 is full of great choices, but Krystkowiak and the Utes have done enough this season to earn Coach K some hardware.

 

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@GriffDoug