Okafor, Nelson honored

Posted: Wednesday, March 24, 2004

There's no debate when it comes to Emeka Okafor and Jameer Nelson. They're unanimous All-Americans.

The stars at Connecticut and Saint Joseph's led The Associated Press men's college basketball All-America team Tuesday, the first time since 1985 more than one player was chosen by every voter.

''It is hard to express just what it means to be recognized as one of the best players in the country,'' Okafor said. ''Individual recognition like this is really a reflection of the great teammates and coaches that I am fortunate to work with every day.''

Okafor, a 6-foot-10 junior center, and Nelson, a 5-11 senior guard, earned a perfect 360 points by being picked on all 72 first-team ballots by the same media panel that votes on the weekly poll.

Each member selected three All-America teams, with players receiving points on a 5-3-1 basis.

Lawrence Roberts of Mississippi State was third with 308 points, while Josh Childress of Stanford had 235, and Ryan Gomes of Providence completed the first team with 208.

In 1985, four players were unanimous choices: Patrick Ewing of Georgetown, Chris Mullin of St. John's, Wayman Tisdale of Oklahoma, and Keith Lee of Memphis State. But only 10 people voted then.

''This is obviously a testament to both players to be unanimous selections,'' Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said. ''That is a lot of respect to be shown, and in neither case was it about hype. These two deserved it.''

Nelson, the Atlantic 10 player of the year, led the Hawks to a 27-0 record and No. 1 ranking before they lost to Xavier in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. It was the longest such run since UNLV entered the 1991 NCAA tournament undefeated.

''It's as much about my teammates and the coaches as it is about me,'' Nelson said. ''I share the award with them and appreciate everyone who watched Saint Joe's all year.''

Nelson is the first All-American for Saint Joseph's, and he leaves as the school's career scoring leader with more than 2,000 points. He averaged 20.6 points, 5.0 assists and 4.6 rebounds, while shooting 49 percent from the field, 39 percent on 3-pointers, and 80 percent on free throws.

He and Delonte West were considered the best backcourt in the nation; their defense was praised as much as their offense.

Nelson is ''the greatest player to ever wear a Saint Joe's uniform,'' Martelli said.

Okafor collected a hat trick of awards in the Big East. He was the player of the year, defensive player of the year, and the league's scholar-athlete for the second year in a row.

He averaged 18.1 points, 11.7 rebounds and a nation-leading 4.3 blocked shots while shooting 60 percent from the field. Okafor, who will graduate in May, missed three games, including two in the Big East tournament, with back spasms related to a small stress fracture.

Beard is second three-time All-American

The third time is the most satisfying for Alana Beard.

The Duke senior with a smooth jumper and moves to match became just the second three-time member of The Associated Press women's college basketball All-America team Tuesday.

She was a unanimous selection on a squad that also features Connecticut's Diana Taurasi, Penn State's Kelly Mazzante, Stanford's Nicole Powell, and Kansas State's Nicole Ohlde.

The only other player with a trio of first-team selections was Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw in 1997-99. The AP has been picking a women's All-America team since 1995.

''Anytime you're associated with the name Chamique Holdsclaw, it's always an honor,'' Beard said. ''And to be a first-team All-American, when there are so many good players out there, and then to do it three times it's definitely a blessing.''

Beard was a first-team choice on all 47 ballots from the national media panel that votes on the weekly Top 25, receiving the maximum 235 points. Each voter picked three teams, and players received points on a 5-3-1 basis.

Taurasi had 45 first-team votes and 231 points, Mazzante had 36 and 207, while Powell had 25 and 183. Ohlde received 24 first-team votes and 172 points.

The five first-teamers, all seniors, were on the preseason All-America team in November. Taurasi, Ohlde and Mazzante were on the first team with Beard at the end of last season, while Powell was a second-team pick. In 2002, Beard made the first team; Powell, Taurasi and Mazzante were on the second team, and Ohlde received honorable mention. Beard received honorable mention as freshman in 2001.

With Beard leading the way, Duke went to the Final Four each of the past two seasons. This season, the Blue Devils finished No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time.

Beard averaged 20.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals, while shooting 51 percent from the field.

''Alana has taken her game to another level this year, which I didn't know existed,'' Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. ''The great thing is Alana has taken the team along with her, and she has let each of her teammates know how important they are for this team to reach their ultimate goal of a national championship.

''She has been the greatest leader we have ever had.''

Taurasi, the national player of the year last season, has been entertaining as well as skillful in her four years at UConn, delighting fans with no-look passes, fearless shooting and a brashness that matches her coach, Geno Auriemma. She has been a winner, too, helping the Huskies claim the last two national titles.

Taurasi led UConn this season in scoring (15.5), assists (4.9), 3-pointers (68) and steals (50). Taurasi recalled that when Auriemma recruited her, he told her she had a chance to become a great player.

''Ninety-nine percent of the things I wanted to do I've accomplished,'' she said. ''And that starts with him, and him kind of putting it my head early and saying, 'If you really work hard and really want it, you can get to that level.'''

Mazzante averaged 20.8 points this season and broke the Big Ten's career scoring record. She helped Penn State earn a No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament.

''It's been an incredible honor to coach her,'' Penn State's Rene Portland said. ''Not just because she's a great player, but because she's an incredible team person. The accolades she's received are rightfully deserved. She's taken Penn State to a whole new national level.''

At 6-foot-5, Ohlde is as mobile as a small forward and often outruns defenders in the open court. She led a resurgence in women's basketball at Kansas State, became the Big 12's career scoring leader and averaged 17 points while shooting 57 percent this season.

''It's definitely a tribute to the teammates that I have and all the things they do for me,'' Ohlde said. ''And a tribute to our coaches, who are constantly in the gym trying to help us all get better.''

Kansas State was the only school with two players honored Tuesday; Kendra Wecker was a third-team pick.

Powell has been called on to play everywhere at Stanford, from the point to the post, and handled each as if it were her natural position. She led the Cardinal this season in scoring (20.0), rebounding (11.1), assists (3.8) and steals (52).

''She has had a great season,'' Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. ''She's probably the most versatile player I've ever coached.''

The second-team picks were Chandi Jones of Houston, Shereka Wright of Purdue, Lindsay Whalen of Minnesota, Stacy Stephens of Texas, and Vanessa Hayden of Florida.

Joining Wecker on the third team were Seimone Augustus of LSU, Shameka Christon of Arkansas, Shyra Ely of Tennessee, and Cappie Pondexter of Rutgers.



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