Players and Coaches Earn Top Honors This Week at Alabama A&M, Norfolk State, and Pitt

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Akonobi Named SWAC Defensive Player of the Year

The Southwestern Athletic Conference announced its 2022-23 All-SWAC Men’s Basketball teams and individual award winners on Tuesday evening. The all-conference honors were voted on by the league’s coaches and sports information directors.

Bulldog center Olisa Blaise Akonobi was named SWAC Defensive Player of the Year for his play this season, as he was a key. cog to the Alabama A&M defensive unit, leading the conference in blocks at 2.0 per game.

The graduate transfer blocked at least one shot in 22 games on the year, along with recording multiple blocks on 12 separate occasions, including a season-high six blocks three times, against Illinois, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Alabama State.

The Nigerian native also currently averages 7.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, while shooting a team-high 57.7 percent from the floor.

Akonobi and the Bulldogs return to action on Thursday night inside Bartow Arena for their opening game of the SWAC Tournament against Southern. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. All games of the tournament will be streamed on ESPN+.

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Bryant Named MEAC Player of the Year for Second Consecutive Season to Lead Postseason Honors

Norfolk State senior guard Joe Bryant Jr. was named the 2022-23 MEAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year on Tuesday evening, in addition to earning All-MEAC First Team honors. He becomes the first player to win the award in back-to-back seasons since Delaware State’s Jahsha Bluntt (2005-06, 2006-07).

The historic recognition headlined three Spartans to earn MEAC accolades on Tuesday. Graduate forward Kris Bankston was named to the All-Defensive Team, while joining Bryant on the All-MEAC First Team. Freshman George Beale Jr. made the All-Rookie Team.

The occurrence marked the first time the Spartans have landed two players on the All-MEAC First Team in the same year since 1999-00, when Damian Woolfolk and Darrell Neal made the top squad.

Bryant has led the Spartans to a 20-10 record, averaging 17.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per contest while shooting 43.2 percent from the floor, 37.9 percent from behind the arc, and 84.2 percent (MEAC-best) from the free throw line. He’s recorded 20 or more points on 10 occasions this season, scoring a season-best 29 points at the Invesco QQQ Legacy Classic against Hampton.

Bryant is the second player in program history to be named MEAC Player of the Year in consecutive seasons, with Woolfolk achieving the feat in the 1998-99 and 1999-00 campaigns.

The accolades were voted on by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors. Howard’s Kenneth Blakeney was named MEAC Coach of the Year, while Bison freshman Shy Odom earned Rookie of the Year honors. North Carolina Central’s Brendan Medley-Bacon was named Defensive Player of the Year

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Capel Announced as Phelan National Coach of the Year & Ben Jobe Award Finalist

Head coach Jeff Capel was named as a finalist for the 2022-23 Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year award, as announced Tuesday by CollegeInsider.com. The Jim Phelan Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top Division I coach, is named in honor of a legendary bow-tied coach who spent his entire career at Mount Saint Mary’s University.

Phelan led the Mountaineers to the 1962 NCAA Men’s Division II Basketball Championship. When he retired in 2003, after coaching for 49 years, he had amassed 830 wins (overall record of 830-524) in all divisions. The recipient of the 2023 award will be announced in March in the Houston site of the men’s NCAA Basketball Championship.

Capel has also been selected as a finalist for the 2022-23 Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year award as announced Monday evening by CollegeInsider.com. The Ben Jobe Award, which is presented annually to the top Division I minority coach, is named in honor of one of the finest men to ever play college basketball.

Coach Jobe is an icon in the history of basketball at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He is best known as the head coach of the Southern University, a position he held for 12 seasons. Perhaps his most memorable moment as a coach was leading No. 15 seed Southern to a 93-78 win over No. 2 Georgia Tech in the first round of the 1993 NCAA Tournament. It stands as one of the great upsets in the history of the event. The recipient of the 2023 award will be announced in March, in Houston site of the men’s NCAA Basketball Championship.

Capel guided Pitt to a 21-10 record overall and a tie for third finish in the ACC with a 14-6 league record in his fifth season leading the Panther program. Pitt opens play at the 2023 New York Life ACC Tournament Wednesday, March 8 against Georgia Tech (2:30 p.m. – ESPN).

Pitt’s 10-win improvement from last season is tied for the fourth best in program history, while its 8-game win increase in conference play is a school record. The Panthers have also set school records for ACC wins (14), three-point field goals (292), and three-point attempts (811).

Capel helped engineer the turnaround by adding three veteran transfers (Blake Hinson, Nelly Cummings, and Greg Elliott) to a core of returnees that included Jamarius Burton and Nike Sibande. The revamped Panther roster has already set school records for ACC wins, three-point field goals and three-point attempts, and is also on pace to set a single-season free throw percentage record.

Capel was named ACC Coach of the Year as voted upon by the league’s media and coaches as well as AP ACC Coach of the Year. Pitt reached the 20-win plateau for the first time since the 2015-16 season and became just the third program in ACC history to post a .700 or better win percentage in conference play after four consecutive sub-.500 seasons in league play.

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Sources: Alabama A&M Athletics, Norfolk State Athletics, Matt Plizga/Pitt Athletics