Awards — OBW America East men’s basketball Rookie of the Year

Jahad Thomas. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Jahad Thomas. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

OBW America East men’s basketball Rookie of the Year
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

This, along with the fifth spot on the OBW First Team All-Conference, were easily our closest and toughest decisions, and both came down to the same two players: New Hampshire freshman forward Tanner Leissner, and UMass Lowell red-shirt freshman forward Jahad Thomas.

Both Leissner and Thomas had brilliant seasons, and both – at least provided Thomas can return to health from a second torn ACL in as many years (albeit the opposite knee of the one he tore last year – appear to be sure-fire America East stars in the making.

Leissner, a 6’6” forward, finished sixth in the league in overall scoring (12.8 ppg) and fourth in rebounding (7.4 rpg), and in conference play boosted his numbers to 13.1 ppg (sixth) and 8.5 rpg (third). He was the best player on the best New Hampshire squad in two decades, and showed the ability to score in a variety of unorthodox ways from anywhere on the floor.

Thomas played six fewer games than Leissner after tearing his ACL, but during his time on the floor, was even more dominant, tying for second in the league in scoring (14.3 ppg), and fifth in rebounds (6.5 rpg), while carrying an even bigger portion of the River Hawks offensive and defensive load, drawing nightly double and triple teams (largely a result of being surrounded by much less of a supporting cast), and still finding ways to help Lowell win when, by every measure, they had no business winning. Despite standing just 6’2” on a very good day, Thomas towered over opponents in the post.

Awards — OBW America East men’s basketball Defensive Player of the Year

Dre Wills. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Dre Wills. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

OBW America East men’s basketball Defensive Player of the Year
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

Plain and simple, Wills might be the best perimeter defender the America East has seen since Derrick Jackson graduated from Maine in 2003 – and, with all due respect to Marqus Blakely, may be the best Vermont defender since Kevin Roberson. The incredibly strong, exceptionally athletic Wills drew the nightly assignment of defending the opponents best back court scorer (and, on occasion, even a front court scorer) and nine times out of ten completely took them out of the equation, giving Vermont head coach John Becker the basketball equipment of Revis Island – during Darrelle Revis’s prime.

Wills not only blanketed opponents, he flooded passing lanes, picked pockets, crashed the defensive glass and blocked shots at a shockingly high rate for a diminutive guard (roughly one block per game).

Awards — OBW America East men’s basketball Coach of the Year

Albany head coach Will Brown. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Albany head coach Will Brown. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

OBW America East men’s basketball Coach of the Year
Will Brown, Albany

Vermont head coach John Becker did a masterful job rapidly reloading the Catamounts following the graduation of six seniors, while simultaneously overcoming injuries to key players and the horrific tragedy of the life-threatening injury to recruit Josh Speidel. That Vermont is a bona fide NCAA Tournament threat in a year they were supposed to be rebuilding cannot be over stated. New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion has reinvented his offense and himself, guiding a very young Wildcats squad to the top four in the conference in a year in which he was coaching for his job. And the job UMBC head coach Aki Thomas did motivating a skeleton crew roster racked by injuries and suspensions to keep fighting was also admirable.

In another year, we would be discussing the performances of the above mentioned trio. But not this year. Albany head coach Will Brown – the longest tenured and most decorated America East head coach – has turned in arguably the best coaching job of his career, getting every last drop out of his team while overcoming tragedy and heart break.

After leading the Great Danes to an America East Tournament Championship last year and the fourth NCAA Tournament of his career, Brown lost his starting point guard, starting small forward and best defender, and starting center to graduation. He replaced them with a trio of unproven junior college transfers thrown into the deep end of Division I hoops. On top of that, Brown lost star shooting guard Peter Hooley – the heart and soul of Albany – for nine games while Hooley returned home to be by his mother’s side as she passed away from colon cancer.

There are no words to describe the job Brown did simply dealing with such a horrific loss – and the emotional effects and aftermath on his team – and keeping them together. But there are words for dealing with that loss while guiding a team to a regular season championship, a 15-1 conference record, and a 13 game winning streak: It’s called being the Coach of the Year.

OBW Mahamoud Jabbi America East men’s basketball Walk-on of the Year

Named in honor of former Binghamton Bearcat Mahamoud Jabbi, who made Binghamton out of an open tryout, only to go on to become one of the best players in the league.

OBW Mahamoud Jabbi America East men’s basketball Walk-on of the Year Award.
Ben Grace, Soph., G, UMBC

Grace began the season excelling at the normal, garden variety walk-on activities: pregame hand shakes, towel waving, and bringing everything he had in practice. But by the end of the year, The Grace-a-nator (as dubbed by teammate Devarick Houston) had earned time in the starting lineup, where he showed some serious cojones and no fear knocking down contested 3-pointers in games. Grace’s overall numbers, 17 minutes and 3.6 points per game on 35.9 percent shooting from downtown, are darn solid for a walk on, but they’re also deflated by riding the pine for the first half of the year. Grace saved his two best games for Binghamton, scoring 17 points and drilling five 3-pointers each time he faced the Bearcats.

Walk-on Ben Grace.  Photo Credit: Corey Johns
Walk-on Ben Grace. Photo Credit: Corey Johns

Awards — OBW Jason Grochowalski America East men’s basketball Sixth Man of the Year

Named in honor of former Boston University Terrier Jason Grochowalski, who earned All-Conference First Team honors while coming off the bench during the 2003-2004 season.

OBW Jason Grochowalski America East men’s basketball Sixth Man of the Year
Cam Ward, Fr., G, Vermont

Ward provided a huge spark off the bench for the Catamounts, averaging 6.3 points and 1.9 assists in 19.1 minutes per game, shooting 44.1 percent from the floor and 40.8 percent from downtown. Ward brought quiet swagger and confidence off of the bench, and embraced taking – and making – the big shot. He also didn’t display a hint of ego coming off the bench. With three more years of eligibility, he has all the makings of a future star.

Cam Ward. (Courtesy Photo/Brian Jenkins/University of Vermont Athletics)
Cam Ward. (Courtesy Photo/Brian Jenkins/University of Vermont Athletics)

Awards — Austin Ganly OBW America East men’s basketball Dunker of the Year

Named in honor of the most awe inspiring and authoritative dunker Sam Perkins has seen come through the America East doors. Sure, a dunk is only worth two points on the scoreboard, but often times, it’s worth so much more.

OBW Austin Ganly America East men’s basketball Dunker of the Year
Devarick Houston, Sr., F, UMBC

Devarick Houston. Courtesy Photo / Gail Burton / UMBC Athletics
Devarick Houston. Courtesy Photo / Gail Burton / UMBC Athletics

This was an incredibly tough choice between Houston and Dre Wills. Wills, shorter by six inches, was perhaps the best leaper in the conference and was fearless getting to the rim and finishing with absolute authority in traffic. Houston, an incredible leaper in his own right, spent year playing up around the top of the square, and finised off alley-oops in Sports Center worthy fashion. In the end, Houston’s sheer volume of dunks proved to be the tie breaker by the slimmest of margins over Wills, who we are sure will grab an OBW Dunker of the Year award or two before his career is over.

Awards — OBW America East men’s basketball First Team All-Conference

Sam Rowley. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Sam Rowley. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

The creme of the crop, the best of the best, the Fab Five. Without further ado, here’s our America East men’s basketball All-Conference First Team. Flame away.

OBW America East First Team All-Conference
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany

After showing flashes of being a completely and utterly dominant player, Rowley has finally embraced his role as the Great Danes’ go-to scorer, team leader, and the best player on the league’s best team. With the best low-post moves in the league (“crocodile rolls” as head coach Will Brown calls them), and the ability to finish with either hand, the 6’5” Aussie was an absolute matchup night mare this year, ranking second in the league in scoring (14.3 ppg), fourth in scoring in conference games (15.1 ppg), third in overall rebounding (7.7 rpg) and fourth in rebounding in AE play (7.5 rpg) while ranking fifth in overall field goal percentage (53 percent) and second in field goal percentage in AE play (56.3 percent).

Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
No one in the league hit more big shots than Evan Singletary, who drilled game winning daggers throughout conference play, while also stepping in to Peter Hooley’s role as the team’s go-to perimeter scorer while also flawlessly running the Great Danes offense. Singletary ranked seventh in the league in scoring and scoring in conference play (12.7 and 12.9 ppg), and also made a huge impact on the defensive end.

Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Definitely our most controversial pick, we already know we’re going to catch a ton of flack for this. Yes, Thomas is a freshman. Yes UMass Lowell finished sixth in the standings, and yes Thomas missed the final seven games of the season due to a torn ACL. But in 22 games the 6’2” battering ram was absolutely dominant – more dominant than any America East player not named Jameel Warney or Sam Rowley, and the AE’s version of Charles Barkley. Thomas also faced more defensive pressure – constant double and triple teams and even Box-1 defenses on multiple occasions – than any other America East player other than Warney and all he did was deliver, bulling his way to the hoop and earning every single one of his buckets and rebounds. Thomas tied for second in the America East in overall scoring (14.3 ppg) fifth in rebounding (6.5 rpg), and shot 52.3 percent from the floor (sixth overall). He also always seemed to be making the big play in the games biggest moment and was also the River Hawks best defender.

Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
What do you really need to say about Warney? He led the America East in overall scoring and scoring in league play (16.3 and 17 ppg, respectively) as well as overall rebounding and rebounding in AE games (10.4 and 11.4 rpg, respectively), and in blocked shots both on the season and in conference play (2.4 bpg, 2.3 bpg), and led the entire nation in double-doubles, all while facing double, triple and quadruple teams every night. Dude was a beast.

Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont
Dre Wills did absolutely everything for Vermont. He was the Catamounts best defender, best rebounder, best intimidator, spark plug, enforcer, and most efficient scorer. Wills led the league in field goal percentage both overall and in league play as a 6’1” guard (58.6 and 60.9 percent, respectively), while completely taking out opponents’ best scorers, and also made a big impact blocking shots and distributing the ball. The kid did everything.

Awards — OBW America East men’s basketball Third Team All-Conference

Rayshaun McGrew. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Rayshaun McGrew. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Coaches vote for a variety of different reasons — some for who they think the best players are regardless of factors or pre qualifiers, but many because they want to pay homage to the upperclassmen, or for the best player on the best team, or because they don’t like transfers or JuCos.

When it comes to our awards, we give added weight to performance in conference play, and helping carry their team to wins (important note: There is a difference between carrying a team to wins, and getting carried along for the ride). But at the end of the day, we simply try to pick the best individual players no matter their class, seniority, or how they came to play in the America East.

With that said, here’s a look at our America East men’s basketball All-Conference Third Team.

OBW America East Third Team All-Conference
Rayshaun McGrew, Jr., F, Stony Brook

McGrew had a bit of an up-and-down season, and certainly benefitted from playing behind the unstoppable force that is Jameel Warney. That being said, the 6’7” junior’s rebounding numbers – his 9.5 rebounds per game in AE play and 8.4 rebounds per game each rank second in the conference — speak for themselves:

Mark Nwakamma, Sr., F, Hartford
If Nwakamma had been healthy, instead of battling a knee injury throughout much of the conference slate there’s an excellent chance he would have landed on either the All-Conference First or Second teams. His numbers – ninth in overall scoring (11.8 ppg), seventh in rebounding (5.7 rpg), 17th in scoring in conference games (10.9 ppg) and sixth in rebounding in AE Play (5.8 rpg) — remain admirable none the less.

Willie Rodriguez, Fr., F, Binghamton
Rodriguez did everything for the Bearcats, rebounding, defending, scoring from all over the floor, while making all the little plays that don’t show up in the box score. His 11.6 points per game overall, 12.7 points per conference game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 5.7 rebounds per conference game rank 11th, eight, eight and seventh, respectively.

Ray Sanders, Jr., G/F, Albany
Saunders was a lock down defender all season long for the Great Danes, spearheading their defensive attack, but turned it on offensively down the stretch in conference play when Albany needed him the most, ranking 16th in scoring (11.2 ppg) and 11th in rebounding (5.3 rpg) in AE play.

Jaleen Smith, Soph., G, New Hampshire
Smith was the unsung hero of the Wildcats, the biggest surprise in the league. On the defensive end, he was a lock down defender and the lynchpin of the league’s best defense. On offense, he created off the dribble, got to the rim, and found the open man, while also making a dent on the glass (his 5.6 rebounds per game in AE play ranked ninth).

Awards — OBW America East men’s basketball All-Defensive Team

Jaleen Smith. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Jaleen Smith. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Dick Bennett once said, simply but profoundly, “For us to be successful on defense, we must get back and stop the basketball, eliminate easy baskets, keep the ball out of the lane, and bother the shooters.”

Bennett would have been happy with the five members of our OBW America East men’s basketball All-Defensive team, as they have those qualities in spades. Without further ado, here’s a look at our picks for the five best defenders in the “AE”.

OBW America East All-Defensive Team
Devarick Houston, Sr., F, UMBC

Houston, a 6’7” ball of energy and enthusiasm, was one of the best and most versatile defenders the league has seen in a long time, and literally spent time shutting down the 1-through-5 positions throughout the year. Whether it was blocking shots, picking pockets or rebounding the ball, he did it all.

Ray Sanders, Jr., G/F, Albany
An incredibly strong, tough and rugged 6’4” wing, Saunders was one of the most underappreciated players in the league and the unsung hero of the Great Danes, drawing the nightly assignment of covering the opponents best scorer.

Jaleen Smith, Soph., G, New Hampshire
A very long 6’4”, Smith played with tremendous energy and enthusiasm and emerged as arguably the best defender on the best defensive team in the conference, and spent the season running opposing scorers off of the 3-point arc and off the court entirely.

Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Warney owned the glass, leading the league in defensive rebound both overall (6.9 drpg) and in conference games (7.3 drpg), while also leading the America East in blocked shots in conference play (2.4 bpg) while tying for the overall lead(2.3 bpg).

Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont
Wills was a one-man terror with the athleticism of a two-guard, the physicality of a power forward and the tenacity of a Tasmanian devil. Wills absolutely shut down opposing scorers, picked pockets, disrupted passing lanes, and also blocked shots (he ranked fourth in both overall blocks and blocks in conference games) and rebounded the ball (his 4.7 rpg led the Catamounts).

Awards — OBW America East men’s basketball All-Rookie Team

New Hampshire freshman Tanner Leissner. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
New Hampshire freshman Tanner Leissner. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

It was a banner year for America East men’s basketball rookies. In previous years, we had a hard time finding five truly worthy players to fill out an All-Rookie squad. This season, there were another half dozen or so worthy candidates who didn’t make the cut. We admit, we copped out by selecting six frosh for our squad, but every one of them was damn good.

OBW America East men’s basketball All-Rookie Team
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Grant shouldered a huge load all season long for the Retrievers as the teams only ball handler and flourished, leading the league in assists both in conference play (4.2 apg) and overall (4.0 apg) while ranking 19th in scoring in America East games (10.8 ppg).

Trae-Bell Haynes, G, Vermont
Bell-Haynes hit a bit of a wall down the stretch for the Catamounts, but over the course of the season he was completely dynamic as a one-man fast break, ranking second in assists in conference games (4.0 apg) and third overall (3.4 apg), while also shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor.

Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
As a true freshman Leissner established himself as the best and most important player for the best New Hampshire squad to set foot in Ludholm Gymnasium since the mid 90s. Capable of scoring from everywhere on the floor, the 6’7” power forward completely changes the Wildcats offense, ranking sixth in scoring both overall (12.8 ppg) and in league play (13.1 ppg), fourth in overall rebounding (7.4 rpg) and third in rebounding in conference games (8.5 rpg).

Kevin Little, G, Maine
Little missed nine games due to injury, and was gimpy for most of the year, but when he was on the floor, despite often times standing out as the only capable scorer on a depleted Black Bears roster, the dude straight lit it up, ranking third in America East play in scoring at 15.2 points per game (12.5 ppg overall).

Willie Rodriguez, F, Binghamton
Rodriguez is a true America East forward – 6’6”, not particularly athletic, but tough as nails — who finds ways to just get the job done. Rodriguez ranked 11th overall in scoring (11.6 ppg) and eighth overall in rebounding (5.5 rpg), and elevated his game in conference play, ranking eighth in scoring (12.7 ppg) and seventh in rebounding (5.7 rpg).

Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell
Thomas missed the final seven games of the season with a torn ACL, but before he went down he wasn’t simply THE best rookie in the league, he was one of the best players regardless of class. A 6’2” power forward, Thomas bullied players a half a foot or more taller than him while facing double and triple teams (and even the box-1 on more than one occasion) that only Stony Brook star Jameel Warney saw more of, and still finished the year third in overall scoring (14.3 ppg), fifth in rebounds (6.5 rpg), and sixth in field goal percentage (52.3 percent), while also anchoring the River Hawks defense.