Roberson, Roberts repeat selections from '04 team
ATLANTA -- For Brandon Bass, just making it to college was quite an accomplishment.
He didn't stop there.
On Tuesday, the LSU sophomore was named Southeastern Conference player of the year by The Associated Press, capping a remarkable journey from the drug- and crime-infested neighborhood where he grew up.
Kentucky's Tubby Smith was honored as coach of the year, while one of Bass' teammates, freshman Glenn Davis, was picked as newcomer of the year.
Bass, a 6-foot-8 forward, led LSU (19-8) to a 12-4 mark in conference play and a share of the Western Division championship with Alabama. The Tigers enter the SEC tournament as one of the hottest teams, closing the regular season with a six-game winning streak.
"I wouldn't trade Brandon Bass for any player in the league," LSU coach John Brady (who finished secondin coach-of-the-year voting) said. "Obviously, he's had a phenomenal year. His success is directly tied into our success. Whether he is the most valuable player in the league, I think he is. Certainly, Brandon has been valuable to us."
The numbers back up Brady's assessment. Bass was the SEC's third-leading scorer (17.5 points per game), No. 2 rebounder (8.8) and top shooter (56.9 percent), which was enough to deny Mississippi State's Lawrence Roberts his second straight player of the year award.
Roberts had another banner season for the Bulldogs, leading the conference in rebounding (11.1) and placing fourth in scoring (17.3). He settled for being one of two unanimous selections to the first team, along with Bass.
Bass had plenty of chances to take a wrong turn in life.
His mother died when he was 10, forcing him and two younger siblings to move in with their aunt, a single mother in Baton Rouge already raising five children on a housekeeper's salary. Money was tight, but the family managed to stay together.
Bass saw the grim side of life in the inner city. He had friends who went to prison. He had friends who died. He knew that many expected him to meet the same fate, but he was determined to follow a different path.
"I was motivated by all the people who thought I'd fail," Bass said.
An honor student in high school, Bass has kept up his good work in the classroom since arriving at LSU, where he has a 3.46 grade-point average.
"I always thought you had to work harder when things were hard," he said. "I knew I'd have to make good grades to play basketball. That was just common sense. And I knew I had to be a better player to get where I wanted to go. It was all about work."
Bass' focus and dedication is an inspiring testament to others growing up in hardship.
"For him to emerge from that environment like he has is amazing," Brady said. "Somewhere along the way he developed a real sense of pride about himself and a drive to be the best he can be. And it shows in his work on the floor and in the classroom."
Smith is a familiar choice for coach of the year. This is the third time in eight years at Kentucky that he's received the honor.
This season, the Wildcats (23-4, 14-2) cruised to another SEC championship -- their fifth of the Smith era and 43rd in school history -- despite having two freshmen in the starting lineup and two others getting key minutes off the bench.
Coaching all those youngsters had a rejuvenating effect on Smith.
"It's been a fun year," he said. "They're very eager to learn. It doesn't always happen when you want it to happen -- sometimes, they don't grasp it as soon as you want them to grasp it -- but for the most part they've been able to retain most of the things we've tried to teach them."
There were a few bumps along the way, most notably when freshman Joe Crawford left the team in January because he was upset about a lack of playing time. He had a change of heart a few days later and was allowed back on the team by Smith.
"The guy's a great coach," said Hayes, the Wildcats' senior leader. "You can't really knock him. He wins. The award is well deserved."
Roberson made it back on the first team by leading the SEC in scoring (18.6), just ahead of Winston (18.1). Hayes closed his college career with another fine all-around season, averaging 10.8 points a game and ranking among the league's top 10 in both rebounding and steals.
The 300-pound Davis averaged 13.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks for LSU.
"What he lacks maybe in jumping ability, he makes up for it with great footwork," Brady said. "And he's got great hands. He can catch anything. He's done far and above what I expected him to do. His ability and his desire to improve and become a part of our team have been major factors in our success this year."
The 57th annual AP All-SEC team was chosen by a dozen sportswriters who cover the league.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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