ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s good to be king.
San Diego State, fresh off Saturday night’s win over the New Mexico Lobos to claim the 2014 Mountain West championship, cleaned up in the all-league voting released Monday morning.
SDSU senior guard Xavier Thames was named the Mountain West Player of the Year, edging UNM senior power forward Cameron Bairstow. The Lobo received the votes of several media members who made their ballots public on Monday and he also received messages on social media from other players in the league saying they felt he deserved the award.
Bairstow led the league in scoring in 18 MWC games (20.4 points per game) and shooting (57.6 percent) and also averaged 7.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots.
He said he had no problems with the voting.
“Traditionally in the four years I’ve been here it’s been the best player on the best team who won the conference, and I think that’s the way it should be,” Bairstow said. “I think rightfully, so he deserved the award. He took over the game (Saturday night in San Diego) in the final minutes and they won the regular season. So they’re the best team and he was the best player on the best team. So that who I think it should go to.”
The league’s top player has been awarded to a player from the league champion – either outright or co-champion – each of the past 11 years. Last year UNM’s Kendall Williams was the player of the year. There have been two co-player of the year awards in the league’s 15 seasons, including in the 2007-08 season when UNM’s J.R. Giddens, despite not being on the league champion team, joined BYU’s Lee Cummard.
Williams and Lobos coach Craig Neal both said they thought there was no question Bairstow deserved this year’s honor despite UNM (24-6, 15-3 MWC) finishing second in the league.
“There’s a big discrepancy in my opinion on last year’s Kendall winning it,” Neal said. “There wasn’t anybody clear cut (last season). I think if you look at Cam’s stats, what he’s done, what he shoots from the field, what he’s meant to the team, there’s a big discrepancy there. I think Xavier had a heck of a year but there’s not a guy in our league that went from Game 1 out of the 18 that was more consistent than Cam Bairstow. But I understand Xavier winning it. I’m happy for him. It’s awesome.”
Bairstow made the first team All-MWC, joined by Williams, who was also named to the All-Defensive team. UNM junior center Alex Kirk was named to the third team and all-defensive team for the second time, while junior point guard Hugh Greenwood was an all-league honorable mention.
The Aztecs also landed top coach (Steve Fisher), newcomer (Josh Davis) and sixth man (Dwayne Polee II). UNLV’s Khem Birch repeated as Defensive Player of the Year and Fresno State’s Paul Watson was the top freshman.
Birch, a second-team forward, and Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr., a first-team forward, both posted on Twitter their thoughts on the Thames/Bairstow debate.
“Bairstow deserved POY… Everyone knows that,” wrote Nance, later adding, “Don’t get me wrong. Thames had an incredible year! Congrats to him. But I just thought Bairstow was incredible this season.”
Wrote Birch on Twitter: “Congrats to Thames he killed us both games. But I have Nvr seen anybody ELEVATE there game in a year like bairstow.”
Even Bairstow’s sister, Utah State forward Steph Bairstow who scored 16 points in her team’s win over UNM Monday in the MWC women’s tournament, took to Twitter and wrote, “Even I’m ready for payback.”
Cameron Bairstow said Monday the praise from fellow players means plenty.
“To get feedback from guys you’ve gone against really means the most because they’re on the floor out there and they can really feel the impact that you have on the game,” he said. “To me, that means a lot more than awards from whoever votes on those types of things.”
The voting is done by the league’s 11 coaches, who get 50 percent of the vote, and a select panel of 22 league media members – two from each team’s primary market – comprising the other 50 percent of the vote. Half of those 22 media votes go to the team’s radio play-by-play announcers. The voting process includes 75 percent of the vote from people who draw a check, either directly or through broadcasting agreements, from the schools themselves.
UNM’s radio announcer Robert Portnoy posted on Twitter he voted Bairstow, Kirk and Williams for first team, Greenwood second team, Williams as Defensive Player of the Year, Williams and Kirk for the All-Defensive team, Craig Neal as top coach and Cullen Neal as both the league’s sixth man and freshman of the year.
“I gave all my picks careful consideration and I’m comfortable with every one,” Portnoy told the Journal .
SDSU radio play-by-play announcer Ted Leitner on Friday, in a pregame interview with 610 KNML-AM’s “Opening Drive” radio show, made it clear he’d be going with Thames for the top honor should SDSU win.
Several media members, including the Journal ‘s Geoff Grammer, made their ballots public with Bairstow as their choice. Others published they voted for Thames.
POLL POSITION: Despite the loss to SDSU, the Lobos moved up from No. 21 to No. 20 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Monday.
“I think it’s a sign that people who watched the game know that we really have a good team and we had a bad 10 minutes,” Craig Neal said.
SDSU jumped from No. 10 to No. 8.