Cyclone takes league by storm
Melvin Ejim accomplished much more than just one record-setting game this season. The Iowa State senior forward has a unique top-10 standing in the Big 12.
The 6-foot-6 Ejim was named Monday as The Associated Press Big 12 Player of the Year. He joined Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, the league’s Freshman of the Year, as unanimous All-Big 12 first-team selections.
Ejim, whose 48-point game against TCU last month set a Big 12 single-game scoring record, is the league’s only player in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding. He ranks second in both categories, averaging 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds.
“To see the progression of Melvin’s basketball career from where he came in as a freshman, very raw … it just shows when you put a lot of work into your game, it’s going to pay off, and it certainly helps with your culture,” fourth-year Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said of the A-student history major and his only four-year starter. “He’s a great leader and young guys see what he’s doing and the impact that has on our team and our program.”
Only Iowa State had two first-team players. Ejim was joined in the top five by 6-4 senior teammate DeAndre Kane, a transfer from Marshall who was the unanimous pick for Newcomer of the Year. Kane averaged 17.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists.
“Three great years at Marshall, but had never reached the tournament,” Hoiberg said. “I know that was huge for him, and he’s going to get that opportunity.”
Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart and West Virginia junior guard Juwan Staten, the Big 12’s leader with 18.4 points and 5.94 assists per game, rounded out the first-team selections that matched the coaches’ five picks released Sunday.
Smart was the AP Big 12’s top player and top freshman last year, when he was only the third player to win both of those awards in the same season. His scoring average was better this season at 17.9 points and he led the league with 2.7 steals a game, but also was suspended three games during conference play after shoving a fan at Texas Tech.
Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger, who led the Sooners to a No. 2 seed in this week’s conference tournament, was selected as the AP Big 12 Coach of the Year with 11 of the 18 votes from a panel of AP sports writers and sportscasters who cover the league on a regular basis
Ejim got 11 votes for top player. He is the first Iowa State player to win that AP award since Jamaal Tinsley in 2001, a year after Cyclones standout Marcus Fizer won it.
“It’s pretty gratifying to know that my hard work over four years has been good. I’ve done all the right things. I’ve developed,” Ejim said.
“I never really thought I’d win it,” he said. ‘My goal was to make first team (All-Big 12). So that was just pushing me, and I wanted to play really well this year. It’s pretty cool. I definitely don’t think as a freshman that I thought I’d ever be the Player of the Year with all the big names and the big schools.”
Wiggins, who capped the regular season with 41 points Saturday in a loss at West Virginia, got four Player of the Year votes, and the remaining votes were split by Kane, Smart and 7-foot Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid. Wiggins got 17 votes for Freshman of The Year.
Embiid, who got the other vote for top freshman, headed up the AP All-Big 12 second team that also includes Oklahoma State’s Markel Brown, Kansas State freshman Marcus Foster, Oklahoma sophomore Buddy Hield and Baylor’s Cory Jefferson.
Kruger is 58-36 in his three years at Oklahoma, and last season with the Sooners became the first NCAA Division I coach to take five different programs to the NCAA tournament. They finished the regular season with a 97-67 win at TCU, their fifth win in six games.
“It’s always satisfying when your guys play well and play with enthusiasm and get good results,” Kruger said. “This league is so deep … if we can be in that group right after Kansas, we’re in a very good group of basketball teams, so I feel good about it.”
Kansas coach Bill Self, whose Jayhawks clinched their 10th Big 12 title in a row with a young group, got five votes for top coach. Texas’ Rick Barnes got the other two.
In their voting, Big 12 coaches also tabbed Ejim as top player, Kane top newcomer and Wiggins as the league’s outstanding freshman. They differed on top coach, selecting Barnes.