MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier was named the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural player of the year and Mick Cronin of Cincinnati was named the coach of the year on Wednesday.
Napier, a 6-foot-1 senior, averaged 17.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists in leading the No. 21 Huskies to a 24-7 record, including 12-6 in the conference. The Huskies ended tied for third in the AAC and enter the tournament as the fourth seed.
Cronin, in his eighth season as coach of the Bearcats, led the team to a 26-5 and a 15-3 record in the American. Cincinnati tied with Louisville for the top spot. The 13th-ranked Bearcats are the tournament’s top seed.
Among the other winners were Michael Dixon of Memphis for sixth man and teammate Austin Nichols, who was selected rookie of the year. Justin Jackson of Cincinnati received the defensive player of the year award and Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell was chosen most improved. Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick was given the sportsmanship award and Jimmy McDonnell of Temple was scholar-athlete.
Cronin was selected from a conference that boasts coaches like Larry Brown of SMU, Rick Pitino of Louisville and former NBA coach Eddie Jordan, who is trying to rebuild Rutgers program.
“From one through 10, we’ve got a lot of class individuals,” Cronin said of the league’s coaches. “Ten really good people I enjoy coaching against in our league. As a group, I think there is nothing but integrity, so to be coach of the year with nine other coaches that I respect immensely means a lot.
“It also means you’ve got really good players. Whenever you win coach of the year, it means you have a really good team.”
In his acceptance speech, Napier gave credit to members of the UConn staff that don’t always get recognized - from trainers, to strength coaches to managers. And while noting his teammates and coaches, he gave special credit to his mother, Carmen Velasquez, for his drive and dedication.
“Even through all the tough times, she always gave us better days to look forward to,” Napier said of his mother, who raised three children as a single parent. “For me to even be in this position as a student-athlete at the University of Connecticut is a true tribute to who she is and how she raised me.”