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Caleb McConnell wins Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

After a season where he led the Big Ten in steals, senior guard Caleb McConnell was named the conference's Defensive Player of the Year yesterday. – Photo by Scarletknights.com

Yesterday afternoon, senior guard Caleb McConnell of the Rutgers men’s basketball team was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. The award comes days after the Scarlet Knights’ (18-12, 12-8) season finale win over Penn State.

McConnell, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, earned the prestigious award with 67 total steals this season, 20 more than second-place Hakim Hart

McConnell averaged 2.2 steals per game, making him the fourth Big Ten player in the last decade to average at least two steals a contest in a full season.

The guard is the first Rutgers player to earn a league-wide individual honor since 2010 and the first Knight to win a Big Ten individual honor. The last Rutgers player to win a Defensive Player of the Year was Hamady N’Diaye 12 years ago when he won Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

Both McConnell and N’Diaye are the only two players in program history to win an in-conference Defensive Player of the Year award.

McConnell was also named to the Big Ten’s All-Defensive team with Trent Frazier, Eric Hunter Jr., E.J. Liddell and Trayce Jackson-Davis. This comes after McConnell held Nittany Lions (12-16, 7-13) guards Sam Sessoms and Jalen Pickett to a combined 6-20 from the field. 

"In my 30-plus years of coaching, I have coached a lot of great defenders, and I can truly say (McConnell) is a one-of-a-kind defensive player, who can guard all five spots," said head coach Steve Pikiell. “I want to congratulate (McConnell) on this prestigious award. I truly believe he is not only the best defender in the Big Ten Conference, but the best defender in the country."

Last season, McConnell started his year in January after an upper body injury that sidelined him for the first month. He rebounded to play a crucial role in the Knights’ first round victory in the NCAA Tournament. 

Regardless of the injuries he has faced, McConnell has not been afraid to sacrifice his body in order to make a needed play for his team.

“(McConnell) is a really good defender,” said Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis, who was awarded with Big Ten Player of the Year yesterday. “He’s definitely the toughest guy to face. He was on me the whole game and made it really tough for me to get buckets. He uses his hands and his athleticism really well.”

McConnell not only won his first Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award, but in his senior season, he also is going out with another recognition that no other Rutgers player has received when representing the Big Ten.

Last week, McConnell was named a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award, which is given to the country's best defensive player. 

With McConnell, as well as senior guards Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker playing in their last seasons for the Knights, the program resumes play on Friday in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals in Indianapolis.


For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.


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