- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Whenever talk of the best college basketball player this season arose, so did two names: Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield.

They were unanimous selections Tuesday to The Associated Press’ All-America team.

Both led their teams to successful seasons and their numbers lifted them above all the other players.

Valentine, the Big Ten player of the year, averaged 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists, while Hield, the player of the year in the Big 12, averaged 25 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists.

“I don’t know many guys that have improved in every aspect of the game like he has,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said of the 6-foot-5 Valentine, the school’s first All-America player since Draymond Green in 2012. His importance to Michigan State showed when he missed four games during the season with a knee injury.

Hield, Oklahoma’s first All-America player since Blake Griffin in 2009, became a highlight reel staple with his ability to shoot the ball from long range and with defenders right on him. The 6-foot-4 Hield shot 46.4 percent from 3-point range.

“He has had a fantastic year and has been very consistent,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said of the Bahamas native, who was a third-team selection last season. “He worked hard and has that passion and focus that makes him what he is.”

In the age when one-and-dones usually dominate the college basketball landscape, Valentine and Hield were joined on the All-America team by Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and North Carolina’s Brice Johnson, both seniors. Kentucky sophomore Tyler Ulis rounded out the team.

Valentine and Hield each received 65 first-team votes from a national media panel that participated in the weekly rankings.

The 6-foot-5 Brogdon, who was on the second team last season, was the ACC’s player and defensive player of the year. He averaged 18.7 points and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 40.9 percent from 3-point range.

“He’s a complete offensive player: dribble, pass, shoot. But you have to add his ability to play down the stretch. Clutch play, at the line, making big plays,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said. “Then defensively, you’ve got to talk about his ability to guard, to rebound, to guard different players.”

The last Virginia player to be a first-team selection was Ralph Sampson, who was chosen in 1981, 1982 and 1983.

The 6-foot-10 Johnson was a walking double-double for North Carolina, averaging 16.6 points and 10.6 rebounds, and he received 39 first-team votes.

“He’s always been a good rebounder. At times, he’s been a great rebounder,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “One of the top two or three rebounders I’ve ever coached in 28 years … and not just how quick he jumps but how high he jumps, too.”

The last North Carolina first-teamer was Tyler Hansbrough, who was an All-America selection in 2008 and 2009.

Johnson and Brogdon gave the ACC two first-teamers for the first time since 2006, when J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams from Duke did it.

The 5-foot-9 Ulis, the shortest All-American since 5-foot-9 Johnny O’Brien of Seattle in 1953, was the SEC’s player and defensive player of the year. This is the second consecutive season Kentucky had an All-America player, with Willie Cauley-Stein making the team last season.

“It was a great year for us,” said Ulis, who received 43 first-team votes. “I felt like we went through a lot of ups and downs, had a lot of young players and guys learning how to play the right way. Everybody got better individually.”

Utah’s 7-foot sophomore, Jakob Poeltl, led the second team with 41 first-team votes. He was joined by LSU freshman Ben Simmons, Kansas senior Perry Ellis, Providence junior Kris Dunn and Iowa State senior Georges Niang.

The third team consisted of Duke’s Grayson Allen, Indiana’s Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, Oakland’s Kay Felder and Kentucky’s Jamal Murray.

The voting was held before the start of any national postseason tournaments.

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