Leaders of the Pac: Wildcats win Pac-12 player, coach and freshman of the year
For the first time in program history, the Arizona men’s basketball team took home the three major postseason conference accolades in the same year.
The No. 4 Wildcats (28-3, 15-3 Pac-12) amassed a total of 10 postseason Pac-12 honors in an announcement made by the Pac-12 on Monday morning. Junior guard Nick Johnson was dubbed the conference Player of the Year, freshman forward Aaron Gordon was selected as Freshman of the Year and Sean Miller captured the John Wooden Coach of the Year honor.
Johnson — who was additionally named first-team All-Pac-12 alongside Gordon — represented a quintessential cog in Arizona’s offense and defense this season and was a huge factor as the Wildcats cruised to their 13th conference championship.
“Nick’s meaning to our team’s success, I can’t put a value on it, because it not only happens on the court, but it also happened off the court,” Miller said. “He’s had an outstanding season, not only inside the Pac-12, but if you think about what he did prior to the Pac-12 … he’s been there start to finish, so I’m happy he was rewarded.”
Freshman forward Aaron Gordon recovers a rebound during the first half of Arizona's 79-66 win over Stanford in McKale Center on March 2. Gordon wasn't named to the Pac-12's first team All-Defense Team but was named the Pac-12's Freshman of the Year.
Johnson is the eighth Wildcat to win Pac-12 Player of the Year and the second in five years, joining former Wildcat and current NBA star Derrick Williams, who accomplished the feat in 2011.
“It’s a great honor, obviously,” Johnson said. “To be in that category is a great honor within itself, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Gordon averaged 7.8 rebounds per game and compiled eight double-doubles — both top among conference freshmen. He ranked second among Pac-12 freshmen in scoring, compiling an average of 12.3 points per game, and placed third in blocks with 0.8 per game. Gordon’s 241 boards this season rank fourth on the Arizona freshmen chart.
However, Miller said that Gordon’s statistics aren’t the only reason he’s spoken of so fondly.
“There may be some other freshmen in this country who statistically stand out more, “ Miller said, “but what Aaron means to our program … him being such an easy guy to coach and such a great teammate — to see him rewarded across the board for the things he was a part of equally well deserves.”
Gordon represents the seventh UA player to win the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. He was named to the NIT Season Tip-Off All-Tournament Team in November and marks one of six national finalists in the running for the Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award.“I think it will sink in maybe next year or later down the road when I can look back and know that this is a great accolade that I achieved,” Gordon said.
In addition, junior point guard T.J. McConnell was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and Pac-12 All-Defensive Team after leading the league with a 3.02 assist-to-turnover ratio. Freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson finished the regular season ranked in the top eight among conference freshmen in seven different categories and was subsequently named to the All-Freshman Team.
“T.J. McConnell, the coaches in our conference recognize his value as much as anybody, because he just makes the game easier for his teammates,” Miller said. “I’m happy for him and ditto for Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] in that, no question one of the best freshman not only in our conference, but Rondae has established himself as one of the best freshmen in the country.”
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17