Nevada, Babbitt, Johnson all honored in preseason picks
Nevada Appeal Sports Writer
Tradition and experience.
That’s what the media and Western Athletic Conference coaches saw when both groups tabbed the Wolf Pack as the preseason pick to win the conference title.
Nevada, which shared the regular-season title with Utah State, New Mexico State and Boise State last season en route to a 21-12 season and a sixth consecutive post-season berth, grabbed seven first-place votes and 63 points in the coaches poll with Utah State garnering the other two and 57 points.
New Mexico State (48), San Jose State (43), Boise State (30), Louisiana Tech (29), Hawaii (25), Fresno State (20) and Idaho (9) round out the results of the coaches’ voting.
On the media side, Nevada received 20 of a possible 30 first-place votes and 255 points. Utah State grabbed four first-place votes and 220 points while New Mexico State collected two first-place votes and 201 points.
Louisiana Tech (149), Boise State (142), San Jose State (132), Fresno State (114), Hawaii (103) and Idaho (34) rounded out the voting. Boise State did get three first-place votes and SJSU got one.
Nevada coach Mark Fox has always said that he doesn’t ever put much stock in preseason polls.
“We’re a long way from conference play,” Fox said. “We’ve got to (start) practice first. We are young up front. Last year, we were inexperienced in the backcourt which hurt us early.”
That didn’t matter to Boise State coach Greg Graham.
“They have the most experience back,” Graham said about the Wolf Pack. “Their backcourt is in place (Armon Johnson and Brandon Fields) and they have a couple of other guys with significant experience. Experience in the backcourt gives them the edge.”
Graham also pointed out that in getting ex-Galena star Luke Babbitt is “like having another veteran.”
Individually, Nevada fared quite well in the coaches and media balloting.
Armon Johnson, who averaged 11.5 points per game and 3.4 assists, was named the Preseason Player of the Year by the coaches. Babbitt was named the Preseason Newcomer of the Year.
“I don’t think that’s (Johnson) a surprise,” Graham said. “He’s a very good player. He was Freshman of the Year last year. I know pro scouts are looking at him.”
Johnson, however, was surprised by the honor.
“It did a little bit,” Johnson said. “I’ve been overlooked a lot of my career.”
Fox said he told Johnson about the honor last week. I told him “learn how to deal with it.”
Besides Johnson, the coaches voted for Jonathan Gibson from New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech’s Kyle Gibson, San Jose State’s C.J. Webster and Utah State’s Gary Wilkinson on the first team.
The second team consisted of Babbitt and Brandon Fields from Nevada, Anthony Thomas from Boise State, Tai Wesley from Utah State and Jahmar Young from New Mexico State.
Wilkinson was voted by the media as Preaseason Player of the Year. The media selected Webster, Kyle Gibson, Jonathan Gibson and Johnson on its first team.
Boise State was the choice of both the coaches and media to win the conference title this season.
The Broncos received five first-place votes from the coaches for 61 points. Fresno State received three first-place votes and finished with 58. Louisiana Tech (46), Nevada (41), New Mexico State (39), Utah State (25), Hawaii (24), San Jose State (19) and Idaho (11) were picked third through ninth. Utah State did get one first-place voting.
Boise State got 15 of 22 first-place votes from the media for 189 points. Fresno State was second with five first-place votes and 179 points. Louisiana Tech, with its one first-place vote, was third with 139 points. Nevada (134), New Mexico State (122 and a first-place vote), Hawaii 83, Utah State (66), Idaho (40) and San Jose State (38) round out the rest of the conference.
“The coaches in the conference know the teams in the WAC better than I do,” first-year Nevada coach Jane Albright said. “There is one team in the conference that I know better than they do. My team have given me every reason to believe we can do better.”
The Preseason Player of the Year balloting was split. Boise State guard Tasha Harris was the media’s pick, while Nevada’s Dellena Criner was the selection of the coaches.
Criner, a 5-foot-7 senior from Fremont High in Oakland, averaged 16.1 per contest and has already eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in her illustrious career.
“I’m honored and thankful,” Criner said. “It shows the respect the coaches in the league have for me. But it’s the preseason player of the year so I have to live up to it.”
No doubt she will. Criner has earned the respect of teammates and opponents alike with her tenacity on defense, ability to get to the basket and 3-point shooting.
“First off, she’s extremely athletic,” NMSU sophomore point guard Madison Spence said. “She keeps everybody in front of her and that makes it so hard to get something going with your offense.”