The 2016/17 NCAA Division I season was once again powered by a number of highly skilled and athletic big men.
As a 'One & Done' player, Ben Simmons left LSU with the Australian Player of the Year award last season before being selected as the #1 NBA Draft pick by the Philadelphia 76ers. With his early departure from college hoops, in 2017 we will crown a new Aussie collegiate star as the heir to Simmons' throne.
In my 2016/17 preseason predictions, I had the 2017 award going to Saint Mary's efficient point guard Emmett Naar. When evaluating the mid-season top 5 in January, it was Naar's Gaels team-mate Jock Landale who had emerged as the leader of the pack for best performed Aussie in college basketball, with Winthrop's Xavier Cooks breathing down his neck.
Now I take the plunge and hand out my season-ending All-Australian awards to close out the 2016/17 year, notable for the high number of juniors and seniors earning post-season recognition.
Bonus: Each player's season stats are all listed for you in the one spot (scroll down)!
Player of the Year
Jock Landale | Saint Mary's
While there were a number of Aussies who had outstanding seasons, our player of the year award came down to a battle between two talented big men: Winthrop's versatile forward Xavier Cooks and Saint Mary's star pivot Jock Landale. It was hard to look past Landale who not only stood tall as the best Aussie in division I college basketball this season, but as one of the top 5 centers across all of the NCAA.
The 6'11 center from Melbourne was simply outstanding all season long and went close to averaging a double-double. He started off with a bang, pouring in a career-high 33 points (15/20 FG) with 9 rebounds in the season-opener against Nevada, a performance that earned him West Coast Conference (WCC) Player of the Week honours. From there, he never looked back.
In registering a staggering 17 double-doubles during the season, including in both NCAA Tournament games, Landale would go on to average an Australian-best 16.9 points on an efficient 61.1% shooting from the field with 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 blocks per game. Such was his ability to use the ball well and make good decisions, despite being the focus of opposition defenses, he logged a player efficiency rating (PER) of 34.35, which was second best across the nation. He also came in second in the KenPom rankings which is no mean feat. He scored in double figures in 32 of the 34 games he played - all as a starter - and led the WCC in rebounding.
With all the on-court feats, Landale was duly named to the All-WCC First Team and WCC All-Tournament Team as the Gaels earned a ticket to the NCAA Tournament thanks to being a top 25 ranked team throughout the year. They were the second best team in the WCC behind eventual national championship runner-up Gonzaga.
The accolades kept coming for the junior. He was one of 30 players shortlisted for the Naismith Trophy, named as one of 5 finalists for the 2017 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, was an Associated Press All-American honourable mention, selected to the USBWA All-District IX Team, the Lou Henson All-American Team, and a unanimous selection to the All-Mid-Major Madness First Team.
As one of the best centers in college basketball, he was simply the most dominant Australian this season and it is scary to think he will be returning to play his senior year with the Gaels. They will once again be a fun team to watch with the Aussie pivot leading the way to what will likely be another run in the NCAA Tournament.
Most Improved Player
Deng ADEL | Louisville
There were a number of players who improved upon their previous years, including the likes of Jock Landale, Gardner-Webb's Jamaal Robateau and Hawaii's Jack Purchase. However the player who boosted his output the most and made a genuine impact on an NCAA Tournament team was Deng Adel.
The 6'7 sophomore wing elevated his game to new levels in 2016/17, becoming one of the lead players on a very talented Louisville roster that was nationally ranked all season. From his freshman to sophomore year, Adel boosted his minutes from 12.1 to 30.1 and his scoring from 4 to 12.1 points per game. He doubled his rebounding output to 4.5 rebounds per outing, and increased his assists to 2.1 per game. Plus, he had a major influence on the success his team had, with a big Adel performance usually a barometer for his team's results.
Adel also scored in double figures in 22 games, delivering a career-best 22 points against Wake Forest and another 21 points against then #14 ranked Duke. He would also come up with the goods on the big stage, with 16 point efforts against Jacksonville State and Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, a run that finished in the second round.
Shortlisted for the 2017 Julius Erving Award for best small forward, with Adel's star on the rise, he also declared as an early entrant for the 2017 NBA Draft. He has not yet hired an agent which means he can still return for his junior year. With ambition to play in the NBA, he will workout for NBA teams to gauge interest, but is likely to return for the 2017/18 season.
Defensive Player of the Year
Liam THOMAS | Nicholls
There were a number of players who were in contention for this award, including Baylor's Jo Lual-Acuil Jr, Xavier Cooks and Chima Moneke. However when you lead the entire NCAA Division I for blocked shots, it is hard to overlook that person for Defensive Player of the Year honours.
In averaging 4.2 blocks per game (130 in total) for Nicholls, senior 7'1 center Liam Thomas was the best shot-blocker in college basketball for 2016/17. While he also posted 7.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, Thomas made a living from blocking or changing shots in patrolling the paint all season.
Thomas recorded a block in all but one game this season, posted nine blocks in three different games. He swatted a Nicholls' record 10 shots at Incarnate Word on his way to recording a rare triple-double (14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks), an achievement that resulted in the center receiving Southland Conference Player of the Week recognition. His 130 blocks were the most for a single season in the Southland Conference since 2012, and is tied for the fifth-most for a season in conference history.
Such was Thomas' dominance in the paint this season, he eclipsed his school record mark of 85 from last season. He also became the all-time leader in blocks as a junior and finishes his college career with 293, third all-time in the Southland Conference.
Freshman Player of the Year
Dejan VASILJEVIC | Miami
Playing in the ACC is not easy, yet freshman Dejan Vasiljevic managed to make an impact on an NCAA Tournament team in his first year.
The sharpshooter from Melbourne played in all 33 games, coming off the bench to average 17.5 minutes on court for 6 points, 1.3 rebounds per game while shooting 34.9% from beyond the arc. He would finish the season with a number of Miami freshman records too, earning top spot for 3-point field goals made (51), 3-point field goals attempted (146), while finishing fifth for 3-point field goal percentage.
Vasiljevic would score in double figures 8 times, registering a career-high of 18 points that included 6 triples in a win against Syracuse, while also racking up 17 points with 5 three's against South Carolina State. He would score in all but 4 games, and provided good spark as part of the regular rotation in coming off the bench.
Special mention goes to East Carolina Pirate Deng Riak and Bradley's Jayden Hodgson - both were just shaded for the award by Vasiljevic.
Guard | Emmett NAAR | Saint Mary's Guard | Deng ADEL | Louisville Forward | Chima MONEKE | UC Davis Forward | Xavier COOKS | Winthrop Center | Jock LANDALE | Saint Mary's
While Landale and Adel's inclusion in the first team needs no further explanation, Xavier Cooks was arguably the one pipped for best Aussie player by the Gael's center.
Cooks had a phenomenal season for Winthrop, and was one of the most versatile in action, providing 16.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.7 blocks per game. He became the 24th player in Eagles history to reach 1,000 career points, moved into 8th all-time at Winthrop for rebounding, became the 25th player in Big South history with 500 rebounds and 100 blocks. He was duly named to the All-Big South First Team, and earned selection to the District 3 Second Team. He was also named to the Big South All-Tournament Team after delivering double-doubles in each of the Eagles three games en-route to the NCAA Tournament.
Also enjoying an outstanding year was UC Davis' junior transfer Chima Moneke. The 6'6 forward was sensational in his first season of D1 hoops, adding an impressing 14.6 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Moneke was duly named Big West Newcomer of the Year, added to the All-Conference First Team, and was also named the recipient of the Riley Wallace Award for Top Division I Transfer. Hailing from Canberra, Moneke was the Big West’s top rebounder, and led his team to the NCAA Tournament thanks to his heroics, resulting in him being named Big West Tournament MVP.
Moneke ended his debut season at UC Davis by setting nine new single-season records: double-doubles (14), field goals made (192), total rebounds (341), offensive rebounds (92), defensive rebounds (249), rebounds per game (9.5), offensive rebounds per game (2.6), defensive rebounds per game (6.9) and blocked shots (51). He was also named All-District First Team for his on-court exploits. He season ended with an impressive 20 points (8-of-13 FG) and 9 rebounds in a loss to #1 ranked Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.
While Deng Adel's achievements this season have already been covered, Emmett Naar also deserved his place in the first team thanks to another solid season in running the point for Saint Mary's. Naar's minutes and therefore his points and assists production took a hit this season largely thanks to the Gaels' depth. He was still good for 9.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and an Aussie-best 5.6 dimes in 32.8 minutes per game. He remained the floor general of the Gaels offense, and shot better than 40% from beyond the arc for his third straight season (42.4% 3PT). He was tied f or first his team and in the West Coast Conference for assists (5.6) and moved into second all time in Gaels history for assists. He posted 11 assists three times during the season, including twice in the WCC Tournament, and posted a season best 19 points in a win against Loyola Marymount. He would finish the season by being named All-WCC Honourable Mention.
Guard | Sam MCDANIEL | Louisiana-Monroe Forward | Bosko KOSTUR | Bryant Forward | Duop REATH | LSU Forward | Mangok MATHIANG | Louisville Center | Jo LUAL-ACUIL JR | Baylor
On a terrible LSU team following the departure of Ben Simmons, Duop Reath was one of the shining lights in an otherwise forgetful season. In recording 7 double-doubles during the season, the 6'10 forward would average 12 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in starting every game except senior night. He was named SEC Player of the Week for his 23 point, 14 rebound, 3 steal and 3 block opening game. He would go on to score in double-figures in 21 games, ending the season as number 11 in the SEC for rebound average, third in field goal percentage (51% FG) and eighth in blocked shots as one of the most reliable big men in the competitive SEC.
Playing alongside Deng Adel, Mangok Mathiang was once again one of the best Aussie big men in college. Entering the season renown for being one of the best interior defenders and rebounders in the ACC, Mathiang showed he also had offensive capabilities that were highlighted by matching his career-high with 18 points against Jacksonville and then 13 against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament. He would finish his senior year with career-best averages of 7.8 points and 6 rebounds alongside 1.1 blocks in playing 20.8 minutes per game. In fact he averaged 14 points across his final 5 games to highlight his offensive potential.
Jo Lual-Acuil Jr was a key reason why Baylor won 15 straight games on their way to becoming the number 1 ranked team in the nation. He was the anchor in the middle on the hottest team in college basketball not named Gonzaga, and while he experienced some ups and downs, ended the season with averages of 9.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Standing at 7-feet tall and super-athletic, Lual-Acuil Jr was outstanding, notching a career-best 7 blocks in wins against #4 Oregon and Oklahoma, while he swatted away 5 or more shots in a game 6 times. He also posted a career-high 17 points against Jackson State, showed he had range out to beyond the arc by draining 8 triples for the season (33.3% 3PT), and managed 3 double-doubles. He was duly named to the All-Big 12 Defensive and Newcomer Teams for his achievements.
Bosko Kostur sneaks into the second team thanks to a terrific bounce-back season. The 6'7 junior wing played 20.8 minutes a contest for 9.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. He buried 33 triples at an impressive 41.8% and hit 82.8% from the charity stripe. He exploded for a career-best 26 points (8-of-13 FG) including 5-of-8 from downtown, and was named NEC Prime Performer of the week for his efforts. He dialed up double figures in scoring 17 times and became one of his team's was consistent contributors through the season.
6'6 junior transfer guard Sam McDaniel had a major influence on the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in his debut D1 season. Providing 11.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game in what proved to be a tough season for the rebuilding Warhawks. He put up a career-best 21 points in a win against Coppin State, and also recorded 20 on three other occasions. He scored in double figures 21 times, and posted an impressive 6 double-doubles and just edged ahead of Donlan and Robateau for his place in the second team.
Guard | Jamaal ROBATEAU | Gardner-Webb Guard | Matt DONLAN | Youngstown State Forward | Felix VON HOFE | Eastern Washington Forward | Jack PURCHASE | Hawaii Center | Liam THOMAS | Nicholls State
Matt Donlan was the Most Improved Player in 2016, and backed up with another good season for Youngstown State. The senior 6'7 wing drained 67 three-pointers, ranking him eighth on the single-season list. For his career, Donlan made 149 career triples, which rank ninth all-time for the Penguins. He would end the season averaging 9.3 points, 4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. He shot 38.1% from downtown, slightly down from his sizzling-hot mark of 46.3% from last season when he connected on 82 three's.
Jamaal Robateau joins Matt Donlan as the back court for our Third Team. They both edged out Miami's freshman Dejan Vasiljevic for a spot. The 6'5 junior guard from Queensland had a very good season for Bulldogs in providing 9.5 points, 3 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He connected on 60 three-pointers at 38.5%, including one to force OT in the Big South Tournament. He had a season-best 26 points on 5-of-7 three-pointers against Eastern Michigan, scoring in double-digits 15 times over 2016/17.
Felix Von Hofe earned his selection thanks to another great year for Eastern Washington. The three-point marksman shot 38.4% from long-range for 96 triples made on his way to posting 11.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game as a starter and co-captain. He leaves the Eagles having established new records for games played (127) and three-pointers made (262) while becoming Eastern's winningest player in the school's D1 history with 81 victories in four seasons. The 6'5 wing's 40.8% accuracy from beyond the arc across his career has him ranked in 11th in Eagles history. He had a season-high 23 points against Denver, and scored 20 or more 5 times this season, connecting on 5 or more three's in a single game 7 times.
While Liam Thomas' season has already been covered, Jack Purchase's emergence this season at Hawaii had him in the running for Most Improved after starting each game. Forced to red-shirt last season after transferring from Auburn, Purchase would entrench himself in the starting line up to average 9.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He was also deadly from beyond the arc, leading this side in three-pointers made with 72 at 38.9%, tied for the seventh most in a single season at Hawaii, and the most by a sophomore. He drained 5 or more triples in a game 5 times, and had a career-high 25 points in a win over Long Beach State, scoring 20 or more three times this season. Named all-Big West honorable mention, he was also named as one of two most improved players in Hawaii's end of season team awards.
Dejan Vasiljevic is the unluckiest guard in missing out on selection after being named as the best Aussie freshman this season. Forward Fabijan Krslovic is also victim to the high number of talented Aussie big men starring in college hoops, with the Montana starter posting 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Boise State's Nick Duncan is another to miss out, adding 9.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists in his senior year.
Do you agree with Damian's selections? We would love your feedback so please share a comment.
2016/17 Season Stats
NAME TEAM MIN PTS FG% 3P% FT% REB AST BLK STL J Landale SMC 28.3 16.9 61.1% 22.2% 72.2% 9.5 1.7 1.2 0.3 X Cooks WIN 29.0 16.5 48.8% 34.9% 69.8% 9.1 2.8 1.7 0.9 C Moneke UCD 27.3 14.6 52.7% 0.0% 64.5% 9.5 0.8 1.4 0.9 D Adel LOU 30.1 12.1 42.2% 34.6% 77.1% 4.5 2.1 0.4 0.6 D Reath LSU 27.7 12.0 51.0% 31.4% 60.3% 6.2 0.8 1.5 0.5 S McDaniel ULM 29.0 11.2 38.7% 28.2% 72.2% 6.2 1.5 0.2 0.6 F Von Hofe EWU 33.4 11.2 38.7% 38.4% 79.2% 3.1 0.9 0.4 0.6 J Purchase HAW 30.0 9.6 40.8% 38.9% 89.5% 4.2 2.1 0.4 0.6 B Kostur BRY 20.8 9.6 47.2% 41.8% 82.8% 3.7 1.1 0.2 0.5 J Robateau WEBB 25.1 9.5 43.3% 38.5% 78.7% 3.0 1.4 0.3 1.2 N Duncan BSU 30.9 9.4 36.5% 34.1% 70.1% 3.6 1.8 0.5 0.5 E Naar SMC 32.8 9.4 44.9% 42.4% 85.5% 2.4 5.6 0.1 0.7 M Donlan YSU 26.2 9.3 37.2% 38.1% 86.5% 4.0 1.6 0.2 0.4 J Lual-Acuil Jr BAY 26.1 9.1 54.7% 33.3% 49.5% 6.7 0.3 2.5 0.3 L Thomas NICH 27.8 7.8 60.5% 20.0% 69.1% 6.4 2.1 4.2 0.6 M Mathiang LOU 20.8 7.8 53.1% 0.0% 67.1% 6.0 0.7 1.1 0.5 F Krslovic MONT 27.6 7.6 55.4% 0.0% 63.3% 6.4 1.4 0.6 1.2 J McVeigh NEB 22.9 7.5 37.2% 33.8% 78.0% 2.5 0.6 0.3 0.5 M McCarthy SF 21.9 6.8 50.5% 24.1% 61.9% 5.5 1.1 0.5 0.6 J Lopez MONT 24.6 6.8 40.8% 43.9% 70.0% 3.2 0.7 0.3 0.4 D Pineau SMC 23.8 6.6 60.8% 22.7% 54.9% 6.1 0.8 1.1 0.9 D Vasiljevic MIA 17.5 6.0 35.7% 34.9% 80.0% 1.3 0.5 0.0 0.3 M Rowley ALBY 29.2 5.4 49.0% 0.0% 81.4% 5.0 1.3 0.3 0.7 G Martin GCU 29.2 5.1 33.1% 26.7% 58.5% 4.1 2.5 0.3 1.4 J Hodgson BRAD 20.9 5.1 37.1% 39.0% 69.4% 1.8 1.7 0.0 0.5 G Blagojevic HART 17.9 4.4 39.7% 5.6% 50.0% 3.0 0.7 0.2 0.6 H Froling SMU 14.6 4.3 48.6% 30.0% 40.0% 3.2 0.6 0.2 0.4 K Healy SCU 17.2 4.2 40.2% 38.8% 78.3% 2.5 1.1 0.0 0.4 T Krebs SMC 12.5 4.2 38.1% 36.4% 86.4% 1.5 0.2 0.0 0.2 M Peatling EWU 15.4 4.0 54.4% 36.7% 56.0% 3.0 0.7 0.4 0.4 W Magnay TLSA 14.0 3.9 57.8% 0.0% 57.1% 3.0 0.3 0.9 0.1 K de Laveaga NAU 14.3 3.7 36.7% 39.2% 50.0% 0.8 0.6 0.0 0.4 S Alabakis ULM 17.4 3.4 52.3% 0.0% 56.3% 2.7 0.2 0.4 0.2 D Riak ECU 21.3 3.2 39.8% 20.0% 60.9% 5.2 0.4 0.5 0.3 M Cherry LAF 14.8 3.2 52.1% 0.0% 52.8% 3.4 0.5 0.5 0.5 C Maker PORT 14.8 2.9 28.6% 31.3% 76.0% 2.6 0.3 0.1 0.2 D Malone CSF 13.2 2.9 46.3% 38.5% 70.6% 2.3 0.4 0.5 0.1 I Humphries UK 8.3 2.8 51.1% 0.0% 60.0% 2.8 0.2 0.5 0.2 J Hunt EWU 10.6 2.8 38.4% 23.3% 64.0% 2.1 0.4 0.4 0.1 K Clark SMC 9.9 2.7 42.9% 37.5% 84.2% 1.5 0.4 0.1 0.2 M Owies HAW 11.6 2.6 33.3% 26.3% 75.0% 0.9 0.9 0.0 0.4 K Pinder ARIZ 12.0 2.2 53.7% 25.0% 57.6% 2.9 0.3 0.6 0.5 J White DUKE 6.1 2.1 66.7% 50.0% 80.0% 1.3 0.1 0.2 0.1 C Barker BRAD 8.6 1.9 50.0% 0.0% 76.2% 1.7 0.2 0.2 0.3 G McKay EWU 5.0 1.9 75.0% 0.0% 53.8% 1.4 0.0 0.1 0.1 M Leahy WKU 9.9 1.9 36.4% 50.0% 90.9% 0.9 0.3 0.0 0.2 A Akintola DEN 6.8 1.8 52.0% 0.0% 67.6% 1.5 0.3 0.2 0.2 J Hunter SMC 4.4 1.7 54.8% 100.0% 65.0% 1.5 0.1 0.2 0.1 T Wilson SMU 6.1 1.6 33.3% 35.7% 25.0% 1.0 0.5 0.0 0.1 A Panayiotou CLMB 4.7 1.6 44.4% 40.0% 100.0% 0.4 0.4 0.0 0.3 G Gak FLA 5.3 1.5 64.7% 0.0% 10.0% 1.5 0.0 0.2 0.1 K Hayward LSU 8.2 1.2 22.2% 29.0% 60.0% 1.1 0.3 0.1 0.2 L Anderson EKY 4.3 1.1 28.6% 10.0% 0.0% 1.0 0.3 0.2 0.1 R Tut SC 5.1 1.0 40.0% 0.0% 0.0% 1.3 0.2 0.3 0.3 D McDowell-White FRES 3.0 0.6 50.0% 0.0% 100.0% 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 J Ringholt UTSA 4.3 0.4 20.0% 20.0% 50.0% 0.5 0.1 0.1 0.0 M Wearne EWU 3.7 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.7 K Deng ULM Red Shirt M Jackson GCU Red Shirt J Cornelissen HAW Red Shirt J Antonio MSM Red Shirt B Awet SIUE Red Shirt K Noi TCU Red Shirt J Perry SMC Red Shirt