ST. LOUIS -- After helping Missouri State to its first regular-season Missouri Valley Conference crown and the tournament's No. 1 seed, Missouri State's Kyle Weems has been named the 2011 Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year. The junior is the only player in the league to rank in the Top 5 in the conference in all of the following statistical categories -- scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, steals and free throw percentage.
Missouri State set a school-record with 15 conference and the Bears enter the tournament with a 23-7 overall record. He is the first Missouri State player to earn the Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year honors and the first Bear to take first-team all-league honors since Blake Ahearn in 2006-07. Weems averages a team-best 16.3 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game and shooting 50.7 percent from the floor. His 37 steals is a team-best and he is second for Cuonzo Martin's Bears with 26 blocks. He received 33 of a possible 36 first-place votes and outdistanced UNI's Kwadzo Ahelegbe in voting conducted by coaches, sports information directors and a media panel (voters could not vote for their own student-athlete.)
The league's Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year is the same person. Creighton's Doug McDermott is the sixth freshman in league history to win both awards in the same year and first since former Creighton Bluejay P'Allen Stinnett earned both honors in 2008. With 443 points and 236 rebounds in his initial campaign he joins Wichita State's Cleo Littleton (555-231 in 1951-52), Wichita State's Cliff Levingston (457-294 in 1979-80) and Creighton's Benoit Benjamin (400-259 in 1982-83) as the only freshmen in league history to score 400+ points and pull down 200+ rebounds in their first collegiate seasons.
McDermott is also just the second freshman in league history to earn first-team all-conference honors (joining Cleo Littleton of Wichita State). The last freshman to earn as high as second-team all-MVC was former Creighton Bluejay Rodney Buford in 1996. Buford was Freshman of the Year that year and a second-team all-league pick. McDermott currently ranks seventh all-time in single-season freshman scoring (443). He ranks fourth in the league in scoring (14.3) and is second in rebounding (7.6). He and Weems are the only two players in the conference to rank in the Top 5 in both categories.
Kwadzo Ahelegbe of UNI highlights the league's all-Defense unit, becoming the first Panther to earn the league's Defensive Player of the Year honor. It's the third-straight selection to the all-Defense team for Ahelegbe who was last year's MVC Tournament Most Outstanding Player. He enters the tournament 10th all-time on UNI's career scoring list (1,283 career points) and he has started 104 consecutive games - the league's best active streak and seventh-best nationally.
League coaches selected a “Sixth Man Award” recipient, and this season’s honor goes to Wichita State's Ben Smith. The honor is presented to the league's top reserve player (one who has started fewer than 25 percent of his team's games). Smith averages 7.1 points per game while connecting on an impressive 53.5 percent of his field goals, including 31-of-73 from three-point range (42.5). He has started just three of WSU's 30 games, and averages 16.9 minutes per game while coming off the bench for Gregg Marshall's ballclub.
In addition to the specialty awards, the conference announced it's all-conference units (first-team, second-team and honorable mention), all-newcomer team, all-freshman team, and all-defense team. The all-bench and most-improved units have been selected by the league’s beat writers and will be announced Wednesday (March 2).