NCAA Men: Xavier Cooks named Big South Player of the Year

Winthrop's Australian senior forward Xavier Cooks has been named Big South Conference Player of the Year.

The 6'8 forward from Wollongong has been enjoying a career year for the Eagles, averaging an impressive 17.6 points (3rd), 8.9 rebounds (1st), 3.7 assists (2nd) and 2.1 blocks (1st) per game while shooting 51% from the field (3rd) in conference play. He is the only player in the Big South to rank in the Top 5 in each of these categories, setting career-highs in points, blocks and steals. He earned 12 first place votes and a total of 401 points from a panel to earn the accolade ahead of Campbell's Chris Clemons and UNC Asheville's Ahmad Thomas.

While he was also named to the All-Big South First Team, Cooks led the league in defensive rebounds with 6.9, and posted an outstanding eight 20-point games and a further eight double-doubles across the season. The New South Welshman registered the Big South’s first 30-point and 15-rebound game since 2014 following his career-high haul of 36 points and 16 rebounds in leading Winthrop to a 90-71 win at Gardner-Webb earlier this month. Cooks also had the distinction of recording the only triple-double in the Big South this season in amassing 11 points, 15 boards and 11 assists in a win over Reinhardt back in December.

Earning his second straight Big South first team selection, Cooks collected a number of milestones across the season. He now became the first ever Big South player to log 1,500 points, 800 rebounds, 200 assists, 175 blocks and 100 steals. He moved into third all-time in school history with 1,754 points while also setting new benchmarks for blocked shots (215) and rebounds (968) -- the latter breakthrough smashed a record that had stool for a staggering 36 years (Charles Brunson, 913). In addition, he is just one of two active Division I players who have logged 1,700 points and 950 rebounds or more.

Winthrop finished in a tie for second with Radford behind UNC Asheville by just 1 game following conference play, and will enter the Big South tournament as the number three seed. the Eagles will be looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year after they booked their ticket last season thanks to a Big South tournament win over Campbell. They were bounced out of the tournament in their opening game against Butler, a game in which Cooks delivered 23 points and 6 rebound on the big stage.

Cooks who was named to The Pick and Roll's 2017 All-Aussie First Team, has an extremely versatile skill set standing at 6'8. While he has often played in the forward spot, he has the ability and potential to play the 3. Able to get to the rim and finish, play solid defense and block shots, his ability to hit the three-ball at a higher clip (currently 32.2% 3PT) and prove he can defend perimeter players, could well dictate whether NBA takes take a serious look at him or not.

The Winthrop senior forward is just one of a number of Australian men expected to feature in end of season awards as part of an Australian graduating class that may prove to be the deepest and most talented ever on record. For now however, Cooks would be firmly focused on a Big South tournament victory and a chance to once again go dancing and finish his college career on a high.