Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is not ready to crown early-season and midseason favorite Trae Young as 2017-18 Big 12 Conference player of the year.
“I think what was a slam dunk three weeks ago is a three-man race now,” Self said Wednesday on his weekly Hawk Talk radio show. “I really believe that. Any of the three in my opinion could win, any of the three.”
Self listed Oklahoma point guard Young, KU point guard Devonté Graham and Texas Tech lead guard Keenan Evans as the three logical candidates at this point of the season.
“In my opinion, I think it’s up in the air,” Self stated. “I think if Trae plays well down the stretch and the team wins, you can certainly make a strong, strong case for him because his numbers are off the charts. If Devonté’s team does well and he plays well down the stretch you could make a case for him. If Keenan’s team plays the best and he plays great down the stretch, you could make a case for him.”
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Here’s a look at the contenders and their stats heading into Wednesday night’s games:
Young ranks first in the league in scoring (28.3 points per game), first in assists (9.2), first in three-pointers made (3.7) and fifth in steals (1.7). In league-only games he ranks first in scoring (28.8), first in assists (8.5), first in threes made (3.5) and third in steals (1.7).
Graham ranks third in the league in scoring (17.6), second in assists (7.2), fourth in threes made (3.0) and fourth in steals (1.7). In league-only games he ranks second in scoring (19.0), is tied for third in assists (6.9), is fourth in threes made (2.9) and fifth in steals (1.6).
Evans, who has been hobbled by a toe injury of late, ranks second in the league in scoring (18.2), is tied for 10th in assists (3.4), is eighth in steals (1.4) and is not in the top 15 in threes made. In league games only he is tied for third in scoring (18.7), tied for 12th in assists (3.1), is 11th in steals (1.2) and not in the top 15 in threes made.
Again, this was prior to Wednesday night’s action.
“I think it’s too early. I think it’s too early for any of them,” Self said of picking a winner. “I believe two or three weeks ago Trae Young is going to be national player of the year and conference player of the year. The whole thing is the (Oklahoma) team hasn’t done as well the last three weeks or so (six straight losses) or the last month.
“You start thinking,” Self added, “what is the criteria for player of the year? Is it winning? Is it production? Because you could look at Trae and say he’s averaging 29 and Keenan and Devonté are averaging 19. Trae is averaging nine assists a game and Devonté seven and Keenan less than that. You can make a case for all that. There’s one thing I think you’ve also got to make a case for also, is winning.”
KU now alone in first place
Kansas will enter Saturday’s game against Texas Tech in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with three games to play.
Texas Tech fell to Oklahoma State 79-71 on Wednesday in Stillwater, Okla., dropping to 10-5 in the league and a game behind KU (11-4) in the standings.
“It’ll be so much fun. Our guys will be juiced playing in that environment,” Self said of Saturday’s 3:15 p.m. contest at United Supermarkets Arena. He was speaking while the Tech-Oklahoma State game was going on.
If KU wins Saturday, it would have a two-game lead with two games to play, assuring a tie for the school’s 14th-straight title.
Silvio happy after victory
Self said he received a text from freshman forward Silvio De Sousa late Monday night. De Sousa scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds while playing 13 minutes in the Jayhawks’ 104-74 win over the Sooners.
“The first thing Silvio did when he got home that night,” Self said, “is he texted me unsolicited. In the text he provided the video of Doke (Udoka Azubuike) cheering for him. His whole deal was how cool is it to see somebody that actually plays and you are in the game for him at that particular moment and he’s cheering that hard for you?
“That’s just how he (De Sousa) thinks. I said, ‘Are you doing OK now?’ He said, ‘Coach I’ve been doing fine since I’ve been here. I just haven’t played very well.’ He did play really well the other night, really well.”
De Sousa, who has played sparingly since arriving from IMG Academy in late December, was 3 of 3 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line.
“He’s a terrific young man,” Self said of the power forward. “With guys we’ve been connected to from Africa, whether it be Moulaye (Niang) from Senegal, Jo (Embiid) from Cameroon, Cheick (Diallo) from Mali, Doke from Nigeria and Silvio from Angola, I don’t know if you could have sweeter, nicer guys. Jo is obviously social-media king, but sweet, nice and certainly they were all that way when they were here and conscientious.”