By STEPHEN HAWKINS
Marcus Smart has made quite an impression in his first — and maybe only — Big 12 season.
Smart, Oklahoma State’s impressive guard and a top NBA prospect, was selected Monday as The Associated Press Big 12 Player of the Year and the top freshman as well.
Smart was a unanimous All-Big 12 pick, along with a pair of Kansas teammates — freshman guard Ben McLemore and senior 7-foot center Jeff Withey — on AP ballots cast by sports writers and sportscasters who cover the league on a regular basis. That trio was joined on the AP All-Big 12 first team by Kansas State guard Rodney McGruder and Baylor guard Pierre Jackson, both second-team picks a year ago.
For player of year, Smart got 10 of the 17 votes, while McLemore and Withey got three each. Jackson, the Big 12’s leading scorer at 19.4 points a game, got the other top vote. Smart got 14 votes for top freshman and McLemore got the other three.
Kansas State’s Bruce Weber, whose Wildcats shared the Big 12 regular season title in his first season, was selected Coach of the Year. Weber got 15 votes while Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford and Kansas’ Bill Self split the remaining two votes.
The only others to be the AP’s Big 12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year in the same season were Texas’ Kevin Durant in 2007 and Kansas State’s Michael Beasley the season after that.
Within weeks after their respective dual honors, Durant and Beasley were each a No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft and gone after only one season in the Big 12. Some projections have Smart going that high as well, though he hasn’t said what he will do once the Cowboys are done in the NCAA tournament.
“He enjoys it. But it does not go to his head. It does not. He understands a lot. He gets it. He is as humble as I’ve been around for a guy that has received some of the things he’s received,” Ford said. “But that’s what makes him the player he is. He’s always out to prove himself. He is by far his toughest critic, by far. We’ve got postseason play here and we’ll deal with all that when the season’s over.”
Big 12 coaches, whose awards were announced Sunday, also agreed that the top player and freshman was Smart. He has averaged 15.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.0 steals a game, the only player ranked among the top 15 in the Big 12 in all of those categories. His 89 steals have tied the league’s single-season record.
“I’m thankful to all my teammates, because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even be in a situation to earn these awards,” Smart said.
Iowa State senior guard Will Clyburn, a transfer from Utah, earned the AP Newcomer of the Year award after averaging 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. Clyburn got 15 votes, while teammate and Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious got the other two votes.
Weber was fired by Illinois last year and wasn’t exactly a popular choice among Wildcats fans after the unexpected departure of Frank Martin, who took K-State to four NCAA tournaments in five years before leaving for South Carolina.
Once Weber convinced the players to stay, and they got comfortable in his motion offense, they found their stride and surprised just about everyone by rising to the top of the Big 12. Even after losing at Oklahoma State on the final day of the regular season, the Wildcats got a share of their first regular-season conference title since 1977.
Weber didn’t even bother watching Kansas’ game at Baylor after getting home from Stillwater on Saturday night, assuming the Jayhawks would win to clinch the outright Big 12 title.
The disappointed coach was out on a walk with his dog, Penny, when he found out Kansas lost. Weber was near campus when all of a sudden car horns started honking and people yelled congratulations to him.
“I mean, obviously, when you get any kind of award like that, it means you had a successful season, and I couldn’t be more pleased for our players,” Weber said. “They just, from Day 1, you get a change of coaches and, you know, they bought in, and really slowly but surely built a trust factor, and our staff did a great job. We had a good locker room, good chemistry between coaches and players, and it all adds up to us having some success, and winning the league.”
Along with being the league’s top non-freshman newcomer, Clyburn was a second-team pick with Oklahoma senior forward Romero Osby, Oklahoma State guard Markel Brown, Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez and Isaiah Austin, Baylor’s 7-foot-1 freshman center.
AP Sports Writers Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City, and Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.