Because of its balance and depth, Wichita State had to wait until the end of the season to collect its awards. The Shockers, who share minutes and points more than most teams, didn't win a player of the week honor from the Missouri Valley Conference.
On Tuesday, they got their recognition for a 23-7 record and a second-place finish in the MVC. Center J.T. Durley earned All-MVC honors. Guard Toure Murry was named to the second team. Forward Ben Smith earned Sixth Man of the Year.
The Shockers, not surprisingly, earned the one collective award given out Tuesday — Defensive Team of the Year.
Durley, a 6-foot-8 senior, stood out even on a team with no stars. WSU's offense works best when he is involved, either by scoring in the lane or passing to open shooters. He improved his defense and rebounding during Valley play to grow into a complete player. Durley averages 11.3 points and 5.1 rebounds. In 18 MVC games, he averaged 11.5 points and 6.0 rebounds. He became a better passer, often burning teams who double-team him, and has more assists (39) than turnovers (35). As a junior, Durley committed 72 turnovers.
"J.T. put in so much hard work," guard Demetric Williams said. "J.T. brings a lot of emotion, and we know where he's coming from being a fifth-year senior. He's the leader that every team wants, the vocal person in the locker room that's not a coach."
Durley, who was not made available for comment Tuesday, is a fifth-year senior. A knee injury sidelined him during the 2006-07 season and he spent the next two seasons learning how to work hard consistently and get in shape. He overcame a reputation for being lazy to become one of the MVC's top big men.
"It's huge — the maturity and the responsibility he's taken on himself," WSU senior Graham Hatch said. "He's deserving of every bit of that award."
Murry, a 6-5 junior from Houston, averaged 9.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He played point guard much of the season before moving back to his customary spot at shooting guard. He led WSU with 33 steals and often guarded the top scorer on the opposing team.
Smith, a 6-4 junior from Oklahoma City, gave WSU a scoring punch off the bench in an efficient manner. He averages 7.1 points in 16.9 minutes, making 53.5 percent of his shots and 42.5 percent of his three-pointers. In MVC play, he scored in double figures nine times and made 24 of 48 (50 percent) of his threes.
Smith came to WSU as the career scoring and rebounding leader at Northern Oklahoma College-Enid. He quickly adapted to a reserve role at WSU. He didn't go through the try-to-be-a-star phase many transfers struggle with.
"Graham, and the other people who were playing before me, they put in the work and they know how to play," Smith said. "I tried to take on that role and play the game like it's supposed to be played."
Smith uses the early minutes of the game to watch and learn, figuring out where his skills are needed.
"I try to use that to help my game and bring a spark when I come off the bench," he said.
The Valley named a top defensive team for the first time. WSU ranks second in scoring defense (62.1 points), first in scoring margin (plus10.8), second in shooting defense (41.3 percent for opponents) and first in rebound margin (plus-8.3).
Hatch and Williams estimate the Shockers spend 75-80 percent of practice time on defense.
"Defense and rebounding is a big part of us winning a lot of games," Hatch said. "Every drill that we're involved in, it's main focus is not letting your man score. It's a pride issue."
Missouri State forward Kyle Weems, a junior from Topeka, earned Larry Bird Player of the Year honors. Weems averages 16.3 points and 7.0 rebounds and makes 50.7 percent of his shots. He is the first Bears player to earn that award.
Northern Iowa guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe was named Defensive MVP. Creighton forward Doug McDermott swept Freshman and Newcomer of the Year with averages of 14.3 points and 7.6 rebounds and a shooting percentag of 50.9. McDermott and Weems are the only players to finish in the top five in those three categories.
Durley gives WSU an All-MVC player for the second straight season, joining Clevin Hannah from 2010. WSU last had different players named All-MVC in consecutive years in 1987 (Sasha Radunovich) and 1988 (Steve Grayer). Smith is the second Shocker named Sixth Man of the Year, following Aaron Hogg in 2003. Murry is an All-MVC honoree for the first time.