Three freshmen headline AP All-America team for first time
Oklahoma’s Trae Young took college basketball by storm, leading the nation in scoring and assists. Deandre Ayton played his one season at Arizona with power and athleticism few could match. Versatile big man Marvin Bagley III made his lone year a Duke a memorable one.
The talented trio made history Tuesday by being named to the AP All-America team, the first time three freshmen were named to the first team in its 70-year history.
They were joined by Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham on the team selected by the same 65-member national media panel that selects the weekly AP Top 25.
The All-America first team has had a pair of freshmen three times: John Wall and Demarcus Cousins in 2010; Michael Beasley and Kevin Love in 2008; Kevin Durant and Greg Oden in 2007.
Young, Ayton and Bagley set a new standard with stellar one-and-done seasons.
Young was a top recruit coming out of Norman, Oklahoma, and chose to play for his hometown Sooners. Oklahoma fans were sure glad he did.
A 6-foot-2 point guard, Young popped up on the national radar by scoring 43 points against Oregon early in the season and broke the NCAA record with 22 assists against Northwestern State less than a month later.
Even when teams started to figure out ways to slow Young, he kept scoring and dishing, leading the nation at 27.4 points and 8.7 assists.
“He’s had an interesting year, probably as interesting as anyone can have,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “He battled well all year long.”
So did Ayton.
An imposing presence at 7-foot-1, 260 pounds, the big man from the Bahamas dominated at both ends, throwing down massive dunks, dropping in mid-range jumpers and swatting shots into the stands.
Ayton averaged 20.1 points on 61 percent shooting, 11.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots per game on his way to becoming the Pac-12 player of the year.
“He’s a once-in-a-generation player,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “I doubt if I will ever coach anyone like him again. I don’t mean that we won’t try, but there just aren’t many Deandres walking around.”
Same could be said of Bagley.
The big man from Phoenix is 6-11, but plays more like a much smaller player, athletically getting to the rim, stroking in 3-pointers, soaring in for alley-oop dunks. Bagley became the first player since the 1960s to have 30 points and 20 rebounds in a game when he had 32 and 21 against Florida State, and led the Blue Devils with 21.2 points and 11.1 rebounds.
“He’s the most unique player we’ve had here at Duke during my 38 years,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He has everything.”
Brunson flirted with leaving for the NBA after his sophomore season. His decision to come back keyed Villanova’s return to the Final Four.
A 6-3 guard, Brunson is arguably the nation’s best all-around player. He led Villanova with 19.2 points, 4.6 assists and grabbed 3.1 rebounds per game while leading the Wildcats to the Final Four for the second time in three seasons.
“On the court he’s as complete a player as there can be, very intelligent,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Posts up, shoots 3s, drives, passes, does everything. Defend, rebounds. And his work ethic is maturity every day. We joked he’s the most mature person in the program including all of the coaches and me. And he is.”
Graham took a backseat to All-American Frank Mason III in Kansas a year ago. This season, he’s been the Jayhawks’ unquestioned leader. Heady and with knack for making big plays late in games, Graham led Kansas with 17.2 points. 7.3 assists and grabbed 4.0 rebounds per game while taking the Jayhawks to the Final Four.
“He’s the best intangible guy we’ve ever had here and has as good of leadership qualities as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “So he’s been the complete package as a player, and basically he’s a guy that I don’t think coaches get an opportunity to coach but every few years. And certainly we’ve been blessed to have him.”