Kilpatrick, Napier or Smith ? American Coaches Torn on Player of the Year; Trio Unanimously Named to All-Conference Team | Zagsblog
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Tuesday / June 18.
  • Kilpatrick, Napier or Smith ? American Coaches Torn on Player of the Year; Trio Unanimously Named to All-Conference Team

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    NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at TempleBy JOHN F. SILVER

    Special to ZAGSBLOG

    SMU coach Larry Brown can do coach speak better than anyone.

    He’s won an NBA title and an NCAA championship and has nearly 40 years of experience in his Hall of Fame career.

    He knows whatever he says will make news.

    Still, when Brown was asked about the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year race — which will be officially decided on Wednesday — the 73-year-old coach begged off.

    Who is Brown’s pick between Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, Louisville’s Russ Smith and UConn’s Shabazz Napier?

    “I don’t know how you choose with any of those guys,” Brown said Monday. “All will be playing next year somewhere. They are all playing at a high level. Consider they all finished at the top of the conference. That’s a really tough choice to make. Not trying to avoid that, we got through playing Russ Smith, he’s unbelievable, Memphis guards played great against us. Napier does so many things for his team. And I watch Cincinnati…Kilpatrick is such a big part of that. That’s a difficult one.

    The American will kick off its first tournament on Wednesday in Memphis with a couple of preliminary games before the quarterfinals begin on Thursday, featuring five ranked teams expected to make the NCAA Tournament.

    There is a good reason for the hedging of coaches on the Player of the Year race.

    The coaches aren’t being polite, it really is just hard to do.

    Kilpatrick is the leading scorer in the American averaging 20.9 points per game for the Bearcats, the top seed in the conference tournament. The Yonkers, N.Y., native  ended the regular season in style for the Bearcats with 34 points in a win over Memphis and then 24 in a win over Rutgers to clinch a share of the league crown.

    Kilpatrick would be a shoe-in if it wasn’t for Napier and Smith.

    NapierNapier, a 6-foot-1 senior from Roxbury, Mass., has been one of the best guards in the nation and is second in the American in scoring at 17.8 points per game as well as top five in the conference in assists and steals. Napier leads the Huskies in minutes played, scoring, rebounding at 6.0 game and assists at 5.2 per game and may very well be the most valuable player to his team in the entire country.

    But even UConn coach Kevin Ollie thinks it’s a tough choice.

    “They mean a lot to both teams,” Ollie said of Kilpatrick and Napier. “They’re the heartbeat of our team. (Napier) leads us in all the important categories; he just means so much to our team dynamic. I also know Kilpatrick is the same way. When they need a big shot, he’s always making it – maybe a dump-down pass, maybe a rebound. Big-time players make big-time plays.”

    So would Ollie object if Kilpatrick gets named the top player?

    “If he got it, it’d be a worthy choice,” Ollie said. “He’s had an awesome career there, and I know he’ll be playing at the next level.”

    Then there is Smith, a 6-foot-0 guard from Brooklyn, N.Y..

    Russ SmithHe was a preseason All-American on the defending national champions and has had a better year than his breakout junior campaign. He showed he was more than a scorer on Saturday in a rout of UConn with a career-high 13 assists and only three points.

    He is averaging 17.8 points per game, a little less than last year, but is shooting a career-best 47.8 percent from the floor and averaging 4.8 assists.

    Louisville coach Rick Pitino thinks Smith is worth it, of course, and we could be looking at a player not winning conference player of the year but getting national honors.

    “I think you could pick three, four different players,” Pitino said of the race. “Russ Smith, Shabazz Napier, Sean Kilpatrick are all capable of winning that award.

    “I don’t think (Kentucky’s) Anthony Davis won the SEC player of the year and he got National Player of the Year. It could not go to Russ Smith, and he could be a first-team All-American. If you took (Kilpatrick) out of Cincinnati, it would hurt them tremendously because they count on him so much for points. He’s a worthy candidate to win that award.”

    For a league looking to make its mark, it couldn’t have had a better regular season.


    2014 American Athletic Conference All-Conference First Team

    Sean Kilpatrick, G, Cincinnati *

    Shabazz Napier, G, UConn *

    Montrezl Harrell, F, Louisville

    Russ Smith, G, Louisville *

    Nic Moore, G, SMU


    2014 American Athletic Conference All-Conference Second Team

    Isaiah Sykes, G, UCF

    Justin Jackson, F, Cincinnati

    TaShawn Thomas, F, Houston

    Shaq Goodwin, F, Memphis

    Joe Jackson, G, Memphis

    Markus Kennedy, F, SMU


    2014 American Athletic Conference All-Rookie Team

    Amida Brimah, C, UConn

    Terry Rozier, G, Louisville

    Austin Nichols, F, Memphis *

    John Egbunu, C, USF

    Chris Perry, F, USF


    * unanimous selection

    Follow John F. Silver on Twitter

    Written by

    [email protected]

    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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