Newcomer of the Year: Ayo Dosunmu
Dosunmu is the team’s second-leading scorer, third-leading rebounder and second-leading assist man. There are eight new scholarship players on the roster, but no one should be surprised that Ayo Dosunmu’s star has shined the brightest.
Dosunmu is on pace to snag a selection on the All-Big Ten Freshmen team, following in the footsteps of teammate Trent Frazier. Giorgi Bezhanishvilli can make a run for that honor, but I doubt anyone but Ayo will end the year as the team’s best newcomer.
Defensive Player of the Year: Da’Monte Williams
This was the toughest award on the list. I think Williams is the best defender on the team and has been asked to guard a variety of players, from smaller point guards to 6-foot-6 lottery pick Romeo Langford. Williams has great awareness and makes very few mistakes on the defensive end. He doesn’t lead the teams in steals or blocks, but the best defensive lineups for the Illini include Williams.
He trails only Samba Kane and Tyler Underwood in Defensive Box Plus/Minues at 3.4. This award is up for grabs, as Aaron Jordan and Ayo Dosunmu have both had impressive defensive seasons.
MATTO/Hustle Award: Aaron Jordan
Jordan has been phenomenal. He is the team’s leading rebounder at 6-foot-5 and fights for every loose ball. Aaron Jordan is the culture, and the example of what complete buy-in looks like. Jordan loves the University and you can see that when he is out there. That sounds extremely corny, and people say that all the time.
But Jordan is working his ass off out there for Illinois Loyalty, and you can tell. This is the ‘heart’ award. And nobody has more of it than AJ.
Most Improved Player: TBD
There’s only four players who can win it. I wanna give it to Da’Monte Williams, but he hasn’t proved it yet. In fact, no one has really deserved it. Kipper, Trent and Aaron have also kept their play pretty consistent from a year ago. Aaron Jordan may have a slight edge right now, but he won this award in my mind last year. It’d be pretty hard — and disappointing — for the same guy to win it in back to back years.
Hopefully one of the younger guys can step up and take this one.
Sixth Man of the Year: Andres Feliz
Feliz has been a great third guard off the bench. He’s been slightly inconsistent, but he continues to bring energy on both ends of the floor and a different aggressive, attacking offensive threat that the Illini don’t have in the starting five. There are times he plays a little out of control, and games where he disappears, but he is the most effective player on that second unit for the Illini.
Biggest Surprise of the Year: Giorgi Bezhanishvilli
I had to find a way to get G-Bez in here because he has had a sensational freshman season. Not many expected this kind of from Giorgi out of the gate. He has posted 10 PPG and 5 RPG in his first 16 games. He will likely just miss All-Big Ten Freshmen Honors, but most fans weren’t expecting him to even be in the conversation.
G-Bez has proved he’s a real building block for this program.
Coach of the Year: Orlando Antigua
Antigua coaches the big men and has surely contributed to getting Giorgi ready to play at the level of a Big Ten starter right away. He was also the primary recruiter in the Kofi Cockburn committment.
Team MVP: Trent Frazier
Frazier is the team’s leading scorer, and while he has had some struggles, his numbers are up across the board. He has also become the emotional leader of the team and the go-to guy late in games. The team depends on his scoring and dynamic playmaking every single night. At the moment, I feel Frazier still deserves this title, but Dosunmu is trying to take it from him. Ayo has averaged over 20 points and over 5 rebounds over the last four games. If he keeps up this impressive performance, there will be no question he’s the team’s most valuable player.
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