Blair, Thabeet Co-Players Of Year

NEW YORK -- Either DeJuan Blair or Hasheem Thabeet?

For those who couldn't decide which player was better after two epic battles against each other, well, the Big East coaches couldn't decide, either.

Pittsburgh sophomore center DeJuan Blair and Hasheem Thabeet from Connecticut were voted as Co-Players of the Year by the Big East coaches, Conference commissioner Michael Tranghese announced Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

"A lot of people didn't think I was going to get this award, and that makes it that much better,'' Blair said. "It feels just great, first of all, to receive an award with Hasheem. We had two hard-fought battles. We're both outstanding players, and it's great for both of us, our teammates and where we're from.''

A split for the Player of the Year award has only happened five times in the Big East's 30-year history, but this is the second time it's been between a Pitt and UConn player. Former Pitt point guard Brandin Knight, now a Panthers' assistant coach, and Caron Butler from the Huskies split the award for 2001-02.

It's also the second straight year that Blair has split an honor. He was voted Co-Rookie of the Year last year with point guard Jonny Flynn from Syracuse, but not many before this season considered Blair a favorite for Player of the Year.

No doubt Blair's 22-point, 23-rebound performance in Pitt's win at then-No. 1 Connecticut Feb. 16 had an effect on the Big East coaches. Tranghese said five different players received votes for Player of the Year, even though coaches couldn't vote for their own players. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said earlier this week that he voted for Terrence Williams from Louisville

"It was so tight with the players in our conference and even the players on our team, you could have gone any way,'' Dixon said, referring to Blair and senior Sam Young likely splitting votes. "But you couldn't go wrong with either one, and obviously DeJuan is proving it every day. And he's worked so hard, it's good to see it happen.''

Blair got the better of the Thabeet in that initial road matchup, when the 7-foot-3 Tanzania native fouled out with just five points and four rebounds in 23 minutes played. Thabeet, though, had 14 points (all in the first half) and 13 rebounds compared to Blair's eight and eight in Pitt's home win March 7. Blair called both games "rugged battles,'' and Thabeet shared respect for his counterpart.

"He played great, contributes every night for his team,'' Thabeet said. "I work hard every night to contribute for my team. Me being up there with him, all the coaches we play against felt we deserved it.''

Even though Pitt has beaten UConn twice this season, Blair could battle once more with Thabeet, who was named Monday as the Big East Defensive Player of the Year with 4.5 blocks per game. Pitt, the tournament's No. 2 seed, could face the No. 3-seeded Huskies in the semifinals provided both teams get by second-round opponents.

"I love going against great players, and that's what he is,'' Blair said. "He's a huge opponent. … I hope we're going to meet up again.''

Pitt has to take care of that quarterfinal game Thursday night, and Dixon said the Panthers will practice Wednesday at Baruch College in Manhattan.

Pitt will get one of three teams. No. 10 seed Notre Dame plays No. 15 seed Rutgers tonight in the first round, and the winner of that game faces seventh-seeded West Virginia on Wednesday. Pitt will play the winner of that game at 7 p.m. on Thursday. So, Dixon and the Pitt coaching staff won't know who to prepare for until Wednesday night.

"It's definitely different,'' Dixon said. "I'm going to watch some West Virginia (tape) tonight and get ready for them. But all the coaches will be here for (Notre Dame against Rutgers) tonight. Then, we'll watch that game tonight. Each coach has a different team to scout, and we're preparing in that regard.''


CO-PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: DeJuan Blair, Pitt, C, So., 6-7, 265, Pittsburgh Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut, C, Jr., 7-3, 263, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

COACH OF THE YEAR: Jay Wright, Villanova, 8th year

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Greg Monroe, Georgetown, C, Fr., 7-0, 250, New Orleans

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut, C, Jr., 7-3, 263, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

SCHOLAR ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Alex Ruoff, West Virginia, G, Sr., 6-6, 220, Spring Hill, Fla.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Dante Cunningham, Villanova, F, Sr., 6-8, 230, Silver Spring, Md.

SIXTH MAN AWARD: Corey Fisher, Villanova, G, So., 6-1, 185, Bronx, N.Y.

SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD: Alex Ruoff, West Virginia, G, Sr., 6-6, 220, Spring Hill, Fla.

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