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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Marquette’s Shaka Smart and Tyler Kolek named Big East player and coach of the year

Photo by Marquette Wire Stock Photo
Shaka Smart (left) and Tyler Kokek (right) were named Big East coach and player of the year March 8.

NEW YORK — Shaka Smart and Tyler Kolek may have clinched Big East coach and player of the year down the stretch in February by leading No. 6 Marquette to an 8-1 record in the final month of the regular season.

On Wednesday, both officially were named Big East coach and player of the year respectively.

The awards were announced at Madison Square Garden as the Big East Tournament gets going with first-round games. Marquette plays Thursday at 11 a.m. CST against the winner of Wednesday’s St. John’s-Butler game.

In just his second season at Marquette, Smart led the Golden Eagles to a program record 17-conference wins. Marquette also became the first Big East team to go from being picked ninth  in the preseason coaches’ poll to winning the outright regular season title.

“I am just so grateful to be in the Big East,” Smart said at the ceremony. “I played Division III basketball so for me getting a chance to coach in The Garden and be around these guys who play at such a high level is so much fun.”

Smart is the first Marquette head coach to win the award since it joined the Big East in 2005-06. It’s the first time the 45-year-old head coach has been named a conference’s coach of the year across his 14 seasons at VCU, Texas and MU.

“They believed that we could play with anyone, we could beat anyone (and) more importantly they believed in each other. We have a very special group and I hope this season can go forever because aside from wins and losses, I have never been around such an enjoyable group of guys, such a group of guys that teaches us as coaches how we can be better at our jobs. Thank you guys. Thank you guys for allowing me to be your coach every day,” Smart said.

“I want to thank our coaching staff. This award is really a team award, it’s not something that goes to one person. It goes first and foremost to the players but secondly to our coaching staff, our support staff, everyone that makes our program run the way it runs.”

Kolek has been one of the nation’s top guards all season, ranking second in the nation with his 7.9 assists per game. He is the third Golden Eagle to win the award joining Jae Crowder and Markus Howard.

“Like coach said, I wouldn’t say this is an individual award,” Kolek said at the ceremony. “I’d say it’s a team award and it goes to show all the hard work that we put it together. My guys right over there, I want to thank them for all the support that they give me.

“I’m grateful for the coaches just believing in me, showing me the way and picking me up from last year. My family is right here in the front and I want to thank them as well. Countless hours in the gym with dad and my brother. It’s just been special this ride we’ve been on so I want to thank the Big East and the coaches for voting on this.”

Over the final month of the regular season, Kolek averaged 17.5 points and 8.2 assists across the final nine games. He ended the season with three-straight double-doubles averaging 20.3 points and 11.3 assists.

Marquette looks to make another first 

It’s safe to say the Golden Eagles have far exceeded expectations this season.

With its program record 17-conference wins, Marquette defeated all conference opponents at least once for the first time since it joined the league.

Kolek has had a national player of the year type of season as Marquette enters the Big East Tournament three wins away from tying a program record for wins in a season and winning its first conference title.

“We’re all excited to be the top seed going to New York on the big stage,” Joplin said. “But I think we still have the same hunger. Just having that chip on your shoulder kind of mentality. People still don’t think we’re going to do anything over there, so we’re still want to go at people.”

Over the course of the season, Smart has preached the importance EBGs, deflections and kills when it comes to his team’s culture. There have also been themes such as “No Finish Line” or “Respect 94” amongst others for themes for a particular game.

Junior forward Oso Ighodaro said the theme for Thursday’s quarterfinals is PASSION.

“We just want to go out there be desperate and put everything out on the floor and play with that passion that we’ve shown throughout some games,” junior forward Oso Ighodaro said. “Just really put a full 30 minutes (together) of all out and doing everything we can to win.”

The Golden Eagles possess the league’s best sixth man in sophomore forward David Joplin, who was tabbed with Big East Sixth Man of the Year honors on Monday.

The Brookfield, Wisconsin native has seen an increase in both his role and production this season for Marquette going from 2.8 points and 0.9 rebounds per game last season to 9.2 and 3.4 respectively this season.

Joplin scored a career-high 28 points back on Jan. 28 against DePaul at Wintrust Arena, knocking down eight 3-pointers.

In addition to Joplin’s successes off the bench this season, Smart has put a level of emphasis and importance on getting production from his entire bench this postseason.

“Those guys are hugely valuable,” Smart said. “If we’re going to go to New York and have any level of success, those guys are going to play a pivotal role.

“I told the guys downstairs (in Kasten Gymnasium) that every award that anyone on our team gets this year is a team award. Those awards are the results of guys pouring into one another and guys helping one another.”

Since he began his head coaching career, Smart’s MO has been centered around defense. There was the ‘havoc’ defense at VCU when Smart led the Rams to a Final Four appearance in 2011. At Marquette, Smart’s teams continue to pride themselves on defense and have shown glimpses of that havoc in moments this season.

The Golden Eagles force an average 16.2 turnovers and 9.6 steals per game, which both rank first in the Big East.

Joplin said there is still work to be done defensively with one area of focus being made on building consistency.

“A lot of the times over the course of our games, we’ll have stretches where we don’t give up any points. We go these rounds where we’re just doing great things on defensive end, getting deflections and then sometimes we can ease up and then another team might capitalize on that,” Joplin said. “Once we can put together a complete defensive game, I think that’s what we’re striving for.”

DraftKings Sportsbook currently lists UConn as the favorites to win the tournament at +190 with Marquette and Creighton tied for second at +320.

“We still have some heads to turn and some people to wake up,” Ighodaro said. “It’s not really about proving other people wrong. We just want to prove ourselves right and we have so much more. The regular season championship wasn’t our finish line. We been saying no finish line all season and we want more.”

This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU. 

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