Fred VanVleet didn’t come to Wichita State with a full understanding of the unselfishness coach Gregg Marshall demanded and the balanced scoring his teams thrived on.
Four seasons later, he leaves as proof that selflessness and individual awards aren’t separate agendas. Winning trumps statistics in some cases and WSU’s success is impossible to ignore. On Tuesday, VanVleet joined Xavier McDaniel as the lone Shockers to earn Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year honors twice.
“My first year, I probably went months without scoring in practice,” VanVleet said. “Once we started having success, you can see why. Guys sharing the ball, it just takes the ego out of it.”
VanVleet, a senior from Rockford, Ill., first won the Larry Bird award on 2014 after his sophomore season. Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle claimed it last season. On Tuesday, VanVleet became the ninth MVC athlete to win the honor twice, the first in non-consecutive seasons.
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He is the fourth Shocker to win the award, which started in 1969. Antoine Carr (1983), McDaniel (1984, 1985) and Paul Miller (2006) preceded him.
In 2014, the Shockers cruised to 35 straight wins and VanVleet played in every one. This season offered more obstacles. He missed four games, three of them losses, with a strained left hamstring in November and the Shockers played the rest of the season with little cushion on their NCAA Tournament resume.
VanVleet dealt with a serious injury for the first time in his career and the deceptive nature of a healing hamstring added to his stress.
“I doubted a lot,” he said. “The timetable was pretty confusing to me.”
WSU coach Gregg Marshall isn’t interested in 20-point scorers. He is happy to see that VanVleet’s winning ways register with voters. Forty-five people vote — coach, media relations, play-by-play and beat writer for each team and five TV people — and VanVleet recorded 100.5 points to finish ahead of Evansville’s Egidijus Mockevicius with 68 points. WSU senior Ron Baker placed third with 36.5.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a 20-point scorer,” Marshall said. “At some point you’ve got to put stock in 51-3 (WSU’s MVC record the past three seasons). That’s why you play the game. No one around here cares about who scores the most points. One stat we worry about is who has the most wins.”
It is Baker’s third season in the top three of the Player of the Year voting. He finished behind Tuttle in 2015 with VanVleet third. In 2014, Baker placed third behind VanVleet and teammate Cleanthony Early.
“A lot of what I do has a ton to do with what he brings on the floor,” VanVleet said. “Maybe they need to get two trophies or something like that. Or just give it to him last year when he deserved it. Ron could have easily won it this year, last year or the previous year.”
Markis McDuffie of WSU was named Freshman of the Year in the conference. McDuffie made the All-Newcomer and All-Freshman teams. WSU senior Anton Grady, a transfer from Cleveland State, was named to the All-Newcomer team.
McDuffie, who averaged 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds, is the first Shocker to win Freshman of the Year since Randy Burns in 2002.
“I didn’t expect that coming into the season,” McDuffie said. “Hopefully, next year I can get something better. It’s a great accomplishment.”
Baker joined VanVleet on the All-MVC team, earning their third All-Missouri Valley Conference honor to join an elite group of Shockers.
WSU’s backcourt became the sixth and seventh Shockers named first-team All-MVC three or more times and the first so honored while teammates. They join Evansville guard D.J. Balentine to bring the total to 45 conference athletes with three All-MVC selections.
Baker, from Scott City, averages 13.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.6 steals. VanVleet, from Rockford, Ill., averages 12.3 points and leads the MVC with an average of 5.8 assists. Both were also named to the All-Defensive team, VanVleet for a third time.
Coach of the Year is announced on Thursday.
Balentine, a senior guard, is the Valley’s leading scorer at 20.7 points. He joins Mockevicius, who averages 16.6 points and a nation-leading 14 rebounds, on the first team with Southern Illinois guard Anthony Beane.
Again and again
Wichita State’s most-honored All-MVC picks:
4 — Cleo Littleton (1952-55)
3 — Ron Baker (2014-16)
3 — Fred VanVleet (2014-16)
3 — Xavier McDaniel (1983-85)
3 — Robert Elmore (1975-77)
3 — Warren Armstrong (1966-68)
3 — Dave Stallworth (1963-65)
▪ First-team selections only. Antoine Carr (1980-83) made the second team twice and All-MVC twice. Jamar Howard (2003-05), Aubrey Sherrod (1983-85), Cliff Levingston (1980-82), Cheese Johnson (1977-79) and Joe Stevens (1956-58) made an All-MVC team three times.
▪ The MVC named 10 players to the all-conference team from 1962-75.
▪ Freshmen were not allowed to play basketball or football until 1972. The NCAA repealed that rule during the Korean War, which allowed Littleton to play four seasons.
Larry Bird Player of the Year — Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State
Newcomer of the Year — Dequon Miller, Missouri State
Freshman of the Year — Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
Defensive MVP — Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville
Sixth-Man of the Year — Mislav Brzoja, Evansville
Player of the Year voting
VanVleet 100.5 points (24.5 first-place votes)
Mockevicius 68 (11)
Ron Baker, Wichita State 36.5 (1.5)
D.J. Balentine, Evansville 36 (1)
Anthony Beane, Southern Illinois 19 (5)
Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa 10 (2)
G — Ron Baker, Wichita State
G — Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
G — D.J. Balentine, Evansville
C — Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville
G — Anthony Beane, Southern Illinois
F — DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, Illinois State
G — Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa
F — Montel James, Loyola
G — Devonte Brown, Indiana State
G — Brenton Scott, Indiana State
G — Reed Timmer, Drake
G — Paris Lee, Illinois State
G — Dequon Miller, Missouri State
F — Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa
F — MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State
G — Matt Bohannon, Northern Iowa
C — Anton Grady, Wichita State
G — Mike Rodriguez, Southern Illinois
F — Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
G — Everett Clemons, Indiana State
F — Obediah Church, Missouri State
G — Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye, Bradley
G — Jarred Dixon, Missouri State
F — Luuk van Bree, Bradley
At Scottrade Center, St. Louis
Thursday’s Play-In Games
No. 9 Bradley (5-26) vs. No. 8 Loyola (14-16), 6 p.m.
No. 10 Drake (7-23) vs. No. 7 Missouri State (12-18), 8:30
BU-LU winner vs. No. 1 Wichita St. (23-7), noon
No. 5 Southern Illinois (22-9) vs. No. 4 Northern Iowa (19-12), 2:30 p.m.
Missouri State-Drake winner vs. No. 2 Evansville (23-8), 6 p.m.
No. 6 Indiana State (14-16) vs. No. 3 Illinois St. (18-13), 8:30
On CBS Sports Network
First two quarterfinal winners, 2:30 p.m.
Second two quarterfinal winners, 5
Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.