Michigan State's Denzel Valentine is Big Ten player of year
Denzel Valentine has done it all for Michigan State, and the senior is The Associated Press Player of the Year in the Big Ten.
Valentine was among three unanimous picks on the AP All-Big Ten first team announced Monday along with Indiana guard Kevin ''Yogi'' Ferrell and Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff.
The other first-team selections, determined by a vote of media members who cover the league, were Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes and Purdue center A.J. Hammons.
Valentine overcame a knee injury that cost him four games early in the season to stamp himself as perhaps the nation's most versatile player. The senior from Lansing, Michigan, finished the regular season first in the conference in scoring (19.6 ppg) and assists (7.5) and as the top rebounding guard (7.5). Since assists became an official NCAA statistic in 1983-84, no player has averaged as many points, rebounds and assists in the same season.
Indiana's Tom Crean was voted coach of the year after leading the Hoosiers to their second Big Ten regular-season title in four years. Maryland freshman center Diamond Stone was newcomer of the year, and Hammons edged out teammate Raphael Davis for defensive player of the year.
Valentine ended the regular season with his ninth double-double of the season with 27 points and a career-high tying 13 assists against Ohio State on Saturday.
''I don't know many guys that have improved in every aspect of the game like he has,'' Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. ''I reiterate what I've said a bazillion times in the last two weeks. I love another candidate or two out there, but I prejudicially say that he's the (national) player of the year.''
Ferrell spearheaded Indiana's run to the Big Ten title, hitting countless clutch shots while leading one of the nation's most efficient offenses. The Big Ten's active scoring leader is averaging 17.1 points to go with his 5.5 assists per game.
The 6-9 Uthoff can score from anywhere. His average of 18.8 points is second in the Big Ten, and almost one-third of his field goals have come from 3-point range, where he's shooting 39.2 percent. He averages a conference-best 2.7 blocks, and he's among only three Iowa players to block 80 or more shots in a season.
Hayes, one of two returning starters from the team that reached the national championship game, was a steadying influence on a young Wisconsin squad that exceeded expectations transitioning from Bo Ryan to interim coach Greg Gard early in the season. Hayes, who closed the regular season with 30 points in a loss to Purdue, averaged 16.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Hammons' offensive numbers have improved each of his four seasons, and he's been a defensive force throughout his career. This season he averaged 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds, and he was second to Uthoff in blocked shots (2.6 average) after leading the Big Ten in that category the previous three years.
Crean's situation entering the season seemed tenuous. Fan anxiety was on the rise because only two of his first seven teams reached the Sweet 16, there were off-court problems involving players and last year's team lost its opener in the NCAA Tournament after going .500 in league play.
This season got off to a rough start, including a poor showing in Maui and a 20-point setback at Duke, while a knee injury ended second-leading scorer James Blackmon's season after Christmas. But since that loss to Duke, the Hoosiers have gone 20-3.
Maryland's 6-11 Stone had 10 or more points in eight of the last nine games and finished the regular season as the Terrapins' second-leading scorer at 12.7 a game.