University of Toledo men's basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk claimed throughout this season to have the best freshman in the Mid-American Conference.
Others agreed. A lot of them, in fact.
Point guard Julius Brown earned the league's freshman of the year award Tuesday in a landslide vote, securing 16 of a possible 24 votes from the MAC News Media Association Panel. He is the sixth Rocket to collect that honor and the first since Justin Ingram in 2004.
Brown's transition to UT went as smoothly as Kowalczyk expected after signing him out of Hillcrest High School near Chicago. Playing without a true backup at his position, Brown has started all 32 games and leads MAC freshmen with 11.8 points, 4.9 assists, and a 1.5:1 assist to turnover ratio.
Toledo vs. Central Michigan,
Wednesday, 9:30 p.m.
UT-CMU winner vs. Ohio,
Thursday, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, 8 p.m.
His best game came in a 29-point outburst last month against Central Michigan, a team UT will play Wednesday evening in a second-round matchup at Quicken Loans Arena. Tip off is set for 9:30 p.m.
"I'm not the least bit surprised by his quick adjustment to college basketball," Kowalczyk said. "He's had a great year. He deserves it. He's clearly the best freshman in our league, and I think that bodes well for the future success of Rocket basketball."
Akron swept two other awards announced Tuesday. Zips center Zeke Marshall collected defensive player of the year, and Quincy Diggs received sixth man of the year. Marshall's 89 blocked shots are tied for 11th in the country and exceed the block totals of four MAC teams. Diggs is averaging 8.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.3 steals.
The all-MAC teams will be announced on Wednesday.
Brown's closest competition for the freshman award came from Miami sharpshooter Brian Sullivan with five votes. Central Michigan's Austin McBroom (two) and Northern Illinois' Abdel Nader (one) also received consideration.
"I think Juice [Brown's nickname] is a guy that comes from a very successful program and played for a great high school coach in Don Houston," Kowalczyk said. "When you have guys that play for successful high school programs and well coached high school programs, it makes our job easier."
Hillcrest captured the Illinois Class 3A state championship in 2010, Brown's junior season. UT supporters hope Brown will someday lead UT to a MAC championship, a feat that could come as soon as this week. No. 7 UT survived a scare Monday to beat Miami 60-53 and now must win four games in four nights to capture the program's first MAC tournament title since 1980. Standing in UT's way is a CMU squad that upset Bowling Green on Monday despite receiving just three points from Trey Zeigler.
Zeigler has been a nightmare match up for UT. He's averaging 26 points in four career games against the Rockets and erupted for 33 in UT's 72-67 win Feb. 22.
"We need to do a much better job on him," Kowalczyk said. "He's had some big games on us. We're going to watch tapes. We're going to talk about some things, and we'll see what we do."
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