AP's Big 12 Player Of The Year

Wednesday, March 7th 2007, 1:28 pm
By: News On 6

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ The comparison was inevitable.

When Texas freshman Kevin Durant was scorching Big 12 opponents for 30 points game after game, it wasn't long before some wondered if the kid could pull off what Carmelo Anthony did and carry his team all the way to a national championship.

Anthony led Syracuse to the 2003 title as a freshman in his only college season.

``He just carried his team on his back,'' Durant said this week. ``When he needed to hit a big shot, he hit it. That's what I want to do with my team.''

Durant has done that all season, leading the league in scoring and rebounding and carrying No. 15 Texas (22-8, 12-4) within a game of a share of the Big 12 championship.

On Wednesday, the 18-year-old who many assume will leave for the NBA after this season, was named The Associated Press Big 12 player of the year. And as expected, he also was named freshman of the year.

He is the first freshman to win the player of the year award and the second straight Longhorn to do it. Texas forward P.J. Tucker won it last season as a junior before leaving for the pros.

Although there was some late-season chatter that Texas A&M senior guard Acie Law might deserve it for his strong season, the voting really wasn't close.

In balloting of media members who cover the league, Durant received 19 votes and Law had one. Two voters split their ballot, giving each a half vote.

For freshman of the year, Durant got 18 votes. His teammate D.J. Augustin and Kansas guard Sherron Collins each got two.

Missouri's Stefhon Hannah was named newcomer of the year.

Durant had the kind of freshman season few expect to see again.

His averages of 25.1 points and 11.4 rebounds led the league, and he scored 30 or more points nine times in 16 league games. He had one of the most dominant performances in league history with 37 points and 23 rebounds in a win at Texas Tech.

``I think the best player in the country is Durant,'' said Tech coach Bob Knight, who has won more games than any men's coach in college history. ``I don't even think there's a question about that.''

Said Oklahoma State's Sean Sutton after Durant scored 37 with 12 rebounds against the Cowboys: ``He's an unreal talent.''

Missouri's Mike Anderson had seen enough after Durant scored 34 points on 10-of-14 shooting with 13 rebounds against the Tigers.

``Send him to the league,'' Anderson said. ``He needs to go to the league, man.''

Most expect Durant to go to the NBA, but he hasn't said so publicly and his family has suggested he might return to Texas for another year.

He was asked Monday if he'll come back if he can't duplicate Anthony's national title at Syracuse.

``We're just focused on winning the upcoming game,'' Durant said. ``I'm not going to say if we don't win it that I'll come back. You never know how it works out, but hopefully we win it.''

Lots of great players have come through the Big 12, but few possessed the physical skills of Durant. At 6-foot-9 with a wingspan that stretches about 7-6, his 3-point shot was virtually unguardable and he's tall enough to post up underneath. He's quick enough to drive by beefier players and finds the angles to bank in tough shots.

He was the only player in the country ranking in the top 10 nationally in scoring and rebounding and also hit 80 percent of his free throws.

Had the NBA not imposed an age minimum, he might have gone straight to the league out of high school.

``When we recruited Kevin Durant, we knew how good he was and told him, 'Our expectation for you is to be the best player in college basketball,''' Texas coach Rick Barnes said.

Hannah, a transfer guard, led Missouri with 15.6 points per game and was fourth in the league with 4.66 assists per game.

``I came to Missouri to play the point, 40, 50 (minutes a game). Till they carry me off,'' Hannah said. ``It ain't all about scoring. It's about getting your teammates to fight along with you.''