NEW YORK (AP) — Collin Gillespie came back to Villanova and filled up his trophy case.
The senior guard won his second consecutive Big East player of the year award Wednesday, and Ed Cooley was selected coach of the year after guiding Providence to its first regular-season championship.
Injured point guard Ryan Nembhard of Creighton took freshman of the year honors, with his teammates in the audience for the announcement at Madison Square Garden a couple of hours before the conference tournament tipped off.
Big East head coaches pick the award winners and cannot vote for their own players.
“It’s a great honor,” Gillespie said. “This is a team award for me and without those guys I wouldn’t be in the position that I am today.”
Gillespie shared the league's player of the year prize last season with Wildcats teammate Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Seton Hall forward Sandro Mamukelashvili. But the steady floor leader missed both postseason tournaments after tearing a ligament in his left knee during Villanova's home finale.
He returned to school for a fifth season, taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic.
Gillespie was chosen preseason Big East player of the year and did not disappoint. He led the eighth-ranked Wildcats (23-7, 16-4) to a second-place finish, ranking fourth in the conference in scoring at 16.3 points per game and first in 3-pointers with 93.
The 6-foot-3 Gillespie, a freshman reserve on Villanova's 2018 national title team, also topped the league in 3-point shooting (43.1%) and free-throw percentage (91.5%). He was the only unanimous pick on the all-Big East squad and is set to break the school record for games played Thursday night with 149.
“It's been a wild, fun ride and I'm just super grateful to be a part of it,” Gillespie said. “It's been the best five years of my life."
With a 3.92 graduate GPA in education, Gillespie also joined former Villanova teammate Jalen Brunson (2018) and Connecticut big man Emeka Okafor (2004) as the only players to win Big East scholar-athlete of the year and player of the year in the same season.
Wildcats coach Jay Wright acknowledged he's started to think about what it will be like next season without Gillespie.
“It does hit me every now and then — and it's scary. It's just such a blessing going into every game knowing that you've got a guy that's going to keep everything under control out on the court, no matter how crazy it gets,” Wright said. “And he's always got something in his mind. Like, he's done everything to win a game. He's made a steal, got a rebound, hit a 3, hit foul shots. Everything you could do to win a game, he's done.”
Cooley gives Providence its first Big East coach of the year after 43 seasons in the conference. Pretty notable at a place where Rick Pitino, Rick Barnes, Pete Gillen and Tim Welsh all enjoyed success.
Cooley, however, was thinking about a Georgetown icon.
“I can’t believe I’m standing on the same podium that John Thompson stood on," he said. "And I’m really proud of the presidents and ADs who make us the leader in diversity, as six of our 11 coaches are Black. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that, and I’m pretty sure coach Thompson is smiling down on that as well.”
Picked seventh in the preseason poll, the 11th-ranked Friars (24-4, 14-3) rode a veteran group of players and a string of close wins to their first No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament — with an animated Cooley imploring them in the huddle to get tough and “Be them dudes!”
“All of us know in the league that he's one of the great tacticians in the game, and I think a lot of us because we have so much respect for him kind of revel in him winning this," Wright said. "He's built this team. That wasn't done just this year. It's been a couple years that he's stuck through some tough times with that team.”
Cooley, who grew up in Providence, is 218-139 in 11 seasons with his hometown team.
“I never thought in a million years I'd coach, I never thought in a million years I'd be a head coach, I never thought in a million years I'd be standing in front of you at the greatest place in the world to play,” he said. “This is a dream, that my sorry tail is up here."
Nembhard was chosen Big East freshman of the week a league-high six times before getting hurt Feb. 23 in a victory at St. John's. He had season-ending surgery on his right wrist two days later.
A unanimous selection as one of three Bluejays on the Big East all-freshman team, Nembhard averaged 11.3 points while starting all 27 games he played in. He led fourth-seeded Creighton (20-10, 12-7) in assists (4.4), steals (1.3) and minutes (34.8) per game.
“It's definitely a little bittersweet not being able to play,” Nembhard said, his right arm in a cast and sling.
The 6-foot, 167-pound guard from Ontario, Canada, is the younger brother of Andrew Nembhard, the senior point guard for top-ranked Gonzaga. Andrew Nembhard was chosen MVP of the West Coast Conference Tournament on Tuesday night in Las Vegas.
“It's been a good year for the family,” Ryan Nembhard said with a grin.
Rich Chvotkin, who has broadcast more than 1,500 games as the radio play-by-play voice of Georgetown basketball since 1974, was presented with the Big East media award for outstanding contribution to the conference and college basketball.
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