AUBURN, Alabama–Although the 2021-22 season ended in disappointment for Auburn standouts Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith each player learned on Tuesday they are the winners of awards presented by The National Association of Basketball Coaches.
Smith has been named the NABC Freshman of the Year and Kessler has been named the NABC Defensive Player in the Year. Both are firsts for Auburn players.
Also on Tuesday, the US Basketball Writers Association named Smith as its winner of the Wayman Tisdale Award honoring its National Freshman Player of the Year. S
Previously, Smith was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and the league’s coaches named Kessler the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Each was named to the All-SEC first team selected by the league’s coaches and each has been named to multiple All-American teams.
The pair led the Tigers to a 15-3 regular season SEC mark and the outright league championship, finishing one-game ahead of Kentucky and Tennessee. Along the way the Tigers reached No. 1 in the major polls for the first time in program history. The Tigers were picked to finish fifth in the SEC in preseason poll of media members who cover the conference.
Kessler, a transfer from the University of North Carolina, set a single-season Auburn record for blocked shots with 155, the most of any Division I player in the country this season. He averaged 11.4 points and 8.1 rebounds.
The 7-1 sophomore produced a pair of triple-double performances vs. SEC competition. Prior to the 2021-22 season, Kenny Gabriel was the only player in Auburn basketball history to post a triple-double.
Smith, a 6-10 forward, set an Auburn single-season record for points by a freshman with 576 and for three-pointers made with 79. He led the Tigers in scoring at 16.9 points per game while finishing second in rebounds at 7.9 per dispute. He also set an Auburn record for most points in an NCAA Tournament game for a freshman with 20 vs. Jacksonville State and he made it a double-double vs. the Gamecocks with a season-high total of 14 rebounds. Smith finished the season with seven double-doubles for points and rebounds and scored 20 or more points 14 times. He is projected to be one of the first players selected in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Smith is Auburn’s first Tisdale Award winner and its first USBWA All-American since Chris Porter was honored for his 1998-99 season. He was named SEC Freshman of the Week six times.
Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe was named the NABC Player of the Year and Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd was selected Coach of the Year. Tshiebwe was also named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and he also was named the NABC Big Man of the Year.
Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team finished with a 28-6 record, the third most wins in program history behind his 2018-19 squad that reached the Final Four and the 1998-99 SEC champions coached by Cliff Ellis. Pearl was named the 2021-22 SEC Coach of the Year by the league’s coaches.
The Tigers, who were a two seed for the NCAA Tournament, defeated Jacksonville State University in the opening round of the event at Greenville, SC, but were upset in the second round by a Miami team that advanced to the Elite Eight round of the tournament .
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