Dean Smith, Roy Williams

USBWA, North Carolina announce creation of Dean Smith Award

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The impact that the late North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith had on college basketball and society in general goes well beyond the 879 games and two national titles he won during his time in Chapel Hill. He was active in protests against segregation while also recruiting the school’s first African-American scholarship athlete in Charles Scott, and overall there were a number of causes he championed while also being one of the sport’s greatest coaches.

With that in mind the United States Basketball Writers Association and the University of North Carolina jointly announced the creation of the Dean Smith Award. The honor, which will be awarded annually, will be given to a person in college basketball (all levels, not just Division I) who best exemplifies “the spirit and values represented” by Coach Smith.

“The USBWA has a long history of supporting college basketball and honoring the men and women who make our game great, so I am thrilled that the USBWA would honor Coach Smith’s legacy with this award,” current UNC head coach Roy Williams said in the release. “The award will be especially meaningful because its criteria go beyond winning games in selecting people in college basketball who have made a significant impact on their communities.

“It recognizes the profound impact Coach Smith had on so many lives. I am proud that Carolina is teaming with the USBWA to establish the award and honor the recipients here in Chapel Hill.”

Per the release, the award will be given out at a dinner on the North Carolina campus just before the start of that particular season, with proceeds from the dinner going to the Dean Smith Opening Doors Fund. The fund aims to help students from low-income families with college expenses and professionals involved in the fields of education and social work.

USBWA announces finalists for three major individual awards

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On Thursday the United States Basketball Writers Association released its list of finalists for three major individual awards: the Oscar Robertson (national Player of the Year), Wayman Tisdale (national Freshman of the Year) and Henry Iba (national Coach of the Year) awards. The Robertson Award list of finalists consists of 15 players, while the Tisdale and Iba awards lists have six and ten names, respectively.

The finalists for the Oscar Robertson Award are:

  • G/F Kyle Anderson (UCLA)
  • F Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico)
  • F Cleanthony Early (Wichita State)
  • F Melvin Ejim (Iowa State)
  • G Tyler Ennis (Syracuse)
  • F C.J. Fair (Syracuse)
  • G Nick Johnson (Arizona)
  • G Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati)
  • F Doug McDermott (Creighton)
  • G Shabazz Napier (UConn)
  • F Jabari Parker (Duke)
  • F Casey Prather (Florida)
  • F Julius Randle (Kentucky)
  • G Russ Smith (Louisville)
  • G Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)

If there’s one beef to be had with this list it may be in regard to which Florida Gator deserves inclusion. Prather’s enjoyed an excellent senior season, as he’s averaging 14.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game after accounting for just 6.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game as a junior. But would point guard Scottie Wilbekin be a better choice?

Wilbekin’s the clear leader for the Gators on the floor, something that seemed a bit far-fetched before the season began as he was looking to work his way back into the good graces of head coach Billy Donovan. Wilbekin’s averaging 13.9 points, 3.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game, but the numbers alone don’t fully illustrate his impact.

Also of note are the omissions of Nik Stauskas (Michigan) and Xavier Thames (San Diego State), two players who have been key figures for teams that could win their respective conference titles.

The finalists for the Wayman Tisdale Award are:

  • C Joel Embiid (Kansas)
  • G Tyler Ennis (Syracuse)
  • F Aaron Gordon (Arizona)
  • F Jabari Parker (Duke)
  • F Julius Randle (Kentucky)
  • G Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)

Three of the six freshmen on this list are also finalists for the Robertson Award: Ennis, Parker and Wiggins, and it’s difficult to argue against any of these six players.

And the ten finalists for the Henry Iba Award are:

  • John Beilein (Michigan)
  • Tony Bennett (Virginia)
  • Larry Brown (SMU)
  • Jim Crews (Saint Louis)
  • Mick Cronin (Cincinnati)
  • Billy Donovan (Florida)
  • Steve Fisher (San Diego State)
  • Gregg Marshall (Wichita State)
  • Greg McDermott (Creighton)
  • Jay Wright (Villanova)

Of the ten coaches on the list four have players on the Robertson Award list (Cronin, Donovan, Marshall and McDermott), but names such as Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Sean Miller (Arizona) and Bill Self (Kansas) are noticeably absent. Sure all three of their teams entered the season with high expectations, but that shouldn’t overshadow the work they’ve done.

And in the case of Self his program has already wrapped up at least a share of its tenth consecutive Big 12 regular season title. But there can only be ten, and the coaches on the list are all deserving of the honor. The USBWA will announced the winners of the awards during Final Four weekend in early April.