MHERST, Mass. - Junior Stephane Lasme was named the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Lasme leads the league in blocked shots with 3.9 per game, which ranks third nationally. The last UMass player to named Defensive Player of the Year was Kitwana Rhymer in 2001. Lasme was also named to the A-10 Defensive Team. Again, the last Minuteman to make that team was Rhymer in 2001.
Rashaun Freeman was named to the A-10 First Team for the second year in a row after scoring 13.9 points and grabbing 9.3 rebounds per game. The last UMass player to be named to the First Team twice was Monty Mack in 2000 and 2001.
Freshman Chris Lowe was named to the All-Rookie Team after averaging 4.78 assists per game, second in the league. His 5.94 average in A-10 games is No. 1 in the league.
efore the Atlantic 10 announced its preseason awards Monday afternoon, Stephane Lasme downplayed the expectations that he would be named Atlantic 10 defensive player of the year and predicted Temple guard Mardy Collins would be the winner.
Mardy Collins is one of the nation's leaders in steals so he's probably going to get it, said Lasme, the nation's No. 3 shot blocker who averages 3.89 per game.
Lasme might have been the only person in the Mullins Center not expecting him to receive the honor. He found out that he had won shortly after.
''I'm kind of surprised, but not surprised,'' Lasme said.
He is the first Minuteman to win the award since Kitwana Rhymer in 2001.
Lasme said he is glad about the recognition, but does not place a lot of importance on it. ''I want to win the A-10 Tournament,'' he said.
Rashaun Freeman and Chris Lowe were also honored. Freeman was named to the 11-man All-Atlantic 10 first team. Lowe is among the five players on the rookie team.
Tommie Liddell of Saint Louis is the league's rookie of the year. UMass coach Travis Ford didn't disagree with the pick, but said Lowe might be the most valuable freshman in the nation.
Liddell is ''extremely deserving but I'd like to find another freshman in the country that means as much to their team as ours does,'' Ford said. ''They have higher stats than C-Lowe, but in terms of what Chris Lowe means to our team, there's not a more valuable freshman in the country.''
Ford paused and then amended his thought.
''Except maybe (Tyler) Hansbrough at North Carolina,'' said Ford about the likely national freshman of the year.
Steven Smith of La Salle, who was the league's coplayer of the year last year, won it again and this time doesn't have to share the award. Smith leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring, averaging 20 points per game.
Saint Louis center Ian Vouyoukas earned the Chris Daniels Award for the conference's most improved player.
After leading his team to the fourth undefeated regular season in Atlantic 10 history, George Washington's Karl Hobbs was named coach of the year.
Hobbs likes to have one scorer coming off the bench and for the second straight season that scorer won the league's sixth-man award. Last year it was Danilo Pinnock. This year Maureece Rice earned the plaque.
PREVIOUS PERFECTION - The Colonials joined an elite club of A-10 schools with unblemished regular-season conference marks.
However, only one of the previous three undefeated teams also won the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Saint Joseph's, which went 16-0 in 2003, lost to Dayton in the semifinals. And Temple, which went 18-0 in 1984, lost to West Virginia in the semifinals.
The Owls, who went 18-0 again in 1988, won the league tourney that year.
The Colonials and Gonzaga (West Coast Conference) were the only two schools to sweep their conference this season in Division I.
TRIVIA QUESTION - When is the last time an Atlantic 10 player of the year averaged fewer than 10 points per game? (See answer below.)
SEEDED WINNERS - During the past 10 seasons, No. 1 seeds have won the A-10 tournament six times. In each of those years, the tournament had two No. 1 seeds, one from each division.
No. 2 seeds won twice and a No. 3 and a No. 4 each won once. No team seeded lower than fifth has ever won.
FOUR STRAIGHT - Only one team (Xavier in 2004) has ever won the A-10 Tournament without a first-round bye. Of the eight teams that will try to win four games in a row during the tourney, only three - Fordham, Rhode Island and Saint Joseph's - have done that in any stretch against league teams this season.
BAD NEWS FOR STEVE SMITH - Only once in league history has the scoring champion played for the tournament-winning team.
TRIVIA ANSWER - Pepe Sanchez of Temple averaged just 5.6 points per game in 1999-2000.
OVERTIME WOES - UMass is 0-5 in overtime games in Atlantic 10 Tournament play. No other school has lost more than twice.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. For more UMass coverage including a frequently updated UMass sports blog, go to www.dailyhampshiregazette.com/umsports.
he Atlantic 10 announced the men's basketball All-Conference selections yesterday, and three members of the Massachusetts men's basketball team were recognized.
For the second year in a row, junior center Rashaun Freeman was named to the All-Conference first-team, while junior forward Stephane Lasme garnered A-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors and was named to the All-Defensive team, and freshman point guard Chris Lowe was an All-Rookie team selection.
Freeman, who was 16th in the A-10 with 13.9 points per game and second with 9.3 rebounds per game, is the first UMass player to be named to the first-team twice since Monty Mack in 2000-01.
Freeman was also named the A-10 Rookie of the Year after his freshman season in 2003-04 and said that was the only award that he ever set out to achieve, as his goals have become more team-oriented.
"The only award that I was really looking for was Freshman of the Year," Freeman said. "That was my goal because a lot of people I was surrounded by thought I wouldn't do as good as I did. I wanted to prove to myself that I could get that. Other than that I just wanted to win because I know that if you don't win all of the awards you get mean absolutely nothing."
Probably the only person surprised by Lasme's selection as the Defensive Player of the Year was the junior shot-blocking extraordinaire. Before the announcement was made Lasme predicted that Temple's Mardy Collins would win the award, but clearly the coaches around the league gave Lasme more credit than he gave himself.
Lasme led the conference and was third in the nation with 3.9 blocks per game and was a dominant force in the paint all season for the Minutemen, recording 105 blocks this year, the second best single-season total in school history.
Lowe's selection to the All-Rookie team was no surprise, as the freshman has been a major contributor in his first season in the A-10. Lowe averaged just 5.5 points per game, but was second in the conference with 4.8 assists per game and led UMass by averaging 30.7 minutes of playing time per game.
UMass coach Travis Ford was pleased to hear that the trio was acknowledged by the league, but felt that Lowe, who lost out in the Rookie of the Year voting to Tommie Liddell from Saint Louis, deserved more recognition due to his importance to the team.
"Those guys are extremely deserving, but I would like to find a freshman in the country that means more to their team than what ours does," Ford said of Lowe. "It's two different things. Are those guys individually talented and have higher stats this year? There's no question. But for what Chris Lowe means to our team, there's not a more valuable freshman in the country."
After making that statement, Ford jokingly conceded that he may have been exaggerating, as North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, an All-American candidate averaging 19.0 points per game for the No. 10 Tar Heels, would probably qualify as the most valuable freshman in the country.
Freeman was joined on the 10-player first-team by La Salle's Steven Smith, who was named the A-10 Player of the Year for the second year in a row. Smith led the conference in scoring, averaging 20.0 points per game.
Ian Vouyoukas of Saint Louis received the Chris Daniels Award as the league's most improved player, an award that Lasme certainly was in contention for.
George Washington's Maureece Rice was named Sixth Man of the Year and GW coach Karl Hobbs voted Coach of the Year. The Colonials (26-1, 16-0 A-10) are No. 6 in the country and enter the A-10 Tournament on the heels of a perfect regular season in league play.
ith the regular season over, and UMass set to begin the Atlantic 10 Tournament tomorrow, it seemed like the right time to hand out some hardware to the Minutemen for the 2005-06 season.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The easiest category to select goes to Chris Lowe. Granted, Lowe is the only freshman on the roster, but both James Life and Brandon Thomas qualify for the award in my book, as the junior transfers are first-year players at UMass. Regardless of the competition, it's a no-brainer for Lowe.
Lowe was expected to see plenty of playing time this season, but with the departure of junior guards Art Bowers and Maurice Maxwell early in the year, Lowe was thrust into a critical role as the team's only point guard. The freshman responded, logging a team-high 30.7 minutes per game. Even a sprained ankle in late January couldn't stop Lowe, as he did not miss a game while battling through the injury.
Lowe, who was named to the A-10 All-Rookie team yesterday, finished second in the A-10 with 4.8 assists per game for the season. But once A-10 play began, and Lowe's playing time increased dramatically, he led the conference with 5.9 assists per game.
The Achilles' heel of this year's squad - aside from turnovers - was its lack of depth. With only eight scholarship players the bench was especially thin to begin with, and no one presented themselves as a reliable performer off the bench. With no legitimate candidates in this category, let's have a little fun and give this award to coach Travis Ford, for his performance as Danny O'Grady in the classic movie, "The Sixth Man."
I had trouble deciding on who deserves this award, and since it's my list I'm going to make my own rules. I'm breaking it down to the most improved player from last season and the player who improved the most during this season.
The player who improved the most from last year to this year is easily Stephane Lasme. Lasme has made strides in each of his three years at UMass, but this season he established himself as one of the best shot blockers in the country. Lasme, who was named the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year yesterday, was third in the nation with 3.9 blocks per game, and his 105 blocks this year is the second best single-season total in school history.
Lasme also developed his offensive game this season, averaging 10.1 points per game. If Lasme shows the same improvement this off-season, the sky is the limit next year.
The other recipient is James Life, who improved the most from Game 1 of the season to this point. Life came to UMass from Manatee Community College and was touted as a deadly outside shooter. While Life's shooting percentages (36 percent from the field, 30 percent from downtown) left something to be desired, he overcame a slow start to the season to become a vital contributor for the Minutemen.
While Life struggled to find consistency with his shooting touch, he was still able to become the scorer the team desperately needed, finishing with a 10.8 points per game average. Life was also a factor in the categories that don't show up in the box score, as he brought a swagger and toughness to the floor every night, and displayed a tireless work ethic, improving his defense as the year progressed.
Here comes the curveball: Rashaun Freeman had another solid season and was an All-Conference first-team selection for the second year in a row, but I feel that there were too many games that he didn't play at a high level to warrant this award. If the award was for best player, he'd win it hands down, but I'm more of a believer that the most valuable player should be the one guy who is completely indispensable to his team. And for those who watched this year's Minutemen, that guy was clearly Lowe.
I gave some consideration to Jeff Viggiano because of his steady play all year and the wealth of intangibles he brings to the table, but I just couldn't get past envisioning where this team would have been without Lowe.
Lowe was playing in crunch time in the first game of the season and showed remarkable poise for a freshman in tight situations throughout the year. Lowe became so critical to the team that it was jolting to see the Minutemen without their floor general on the court, as the team did not run nearly as smoothly with him on the bench.
One of the best sights this season for UMass fans was seeing Lowe take off in transition and emerge from the pack to set up a teammate with an easy lay-up. It's a sight that fans will likely see a lot of over the next three years.
And while Lowe still has room for improvement - namely developing a jump shot to complement his penetrating skills - it is unimaginable to think of where this team would have been this year without him, and that is why he gets my vote for MVP.