To the surprise of no one except one of the winners himself, the University of Utah's Rick Majerus and Josh Grant swept the top two honors in the Western Athletic Conference, it was announced Monday afternoon.
Majerus was named the WAC Coach of the Year, and Grant the WAC Player of the Year. Grant also was named to the All-WAC first team, along with BYU's Steve Schreiner, New Mexico's Luc Longley and Wyoming's Reggie Slater and Maurice Alexander.Another Ute, center Walter Watts, was picked for the All-WAC second team, as were BYU's Shawn Bradley, San Diego State's Marty Dow, and Hawaii's Ray Reed and Troy Bowe.
Voting was done by WAC coaches and sports information directors.
Majerus, in his first full year of coaching at Utah, took a team that was picked to finish sixth in the WAC and guided it to a conference championship, a conference record 15 WAC victories in 16 games, a 26-2 overall record and a No. 8 national ranking.
Majerus, who coached only six games at Utah last season before heart surgery sidelined him the remainder of the season, has won 59 of the 66 games he has coached during the past three years, including one season at Ball State. During that time he led both Ball State (29-3) and Utah to school and conference records for victories in a season and twice won conference Coach of the Year honors.
No one, including Majerus, foresaw such a season for the Utes, whose ranks include just one senior, one freshman, four sophomores and six players playing their first year of Division 1 basketball.
"I'm flattered," said Majerus, "because I genuinely believe that the WAC is one of the best-coached leagues. Two of the coaches will be in the hall of fame - Don Haskins and Boyd Grant. But I'm happiest about Josh's award."
Grant, a 6-foot-10 junior forward from Salt Lake City, is the one acknowledged star on a team of role players. He led the Utes in scoring (with an average of 17.8 points per game), rebounding (7.7), blocked shots and steals , and was second in assists and free throw shooting (81.2 percent). He was Utah's leading scorer in 21 games this season.
"When we announced it to the team today, they clapped," said Majerus. "They are all happy for him. He's not the best player in the league, but he is the MVP. He makes his teammates better. He's able to rise up and do different things in a game. He'll score 17 points one game, but in the next game he might get a lot of rebounds, like he did against BYU the other night. Or the next game he'll get a steal, or sting you with five assists. He lets the game come to him."
"It's one of the greatest honors I've ever had, especially considering the other guys who were involved in it," said Grant. "It makes me feel very good. I'm a little surprised. Luc (Longley) will be making a million dollars next year. He's a great player, and Slater's a great player. If you think about it, the team is what got us all these victories and made me look better. I'd rather be winning and be a good player than be losing and be a great player."
If Grant was surprised to learn of the Player of the Year honor, he was more surprised to learn that he also had been named to the league's all-defensive team. "We (the Utes) all had a good laugh about that," said Grant, "because everyone on the team plays better D than me. (Graduate assistant coach) Tommy Connor about had a heart attack he was laughing so hard. I was laughing hard too. I've never been a great defensive player. If I'm getting a lot of steals or blocks, it's because I'm trying to do something after I've been beat."
Monday's award was the second such honor to come to the Grant family. Josh's brother Greg, the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Big West Conference (then known as the Pacific Coast Athletic Association), was named that league's co-Player of the Year in 1986 - Josh's senior season at East High School.
Player and Coach of the Year
Josh Grant, Utah Rick Majerus, Utah
Josh Grant Utah Jr.
Reginald Slater Wyoming Jr.
Luc Longley New Mexico Sr.
Steve Schreiner BYU Sr.
Maurice Alexander Wyoming Jr.
Marty Dow SDSU Sr.
Shawn Bradley BYU Fr.
Walter Watts Utah Sr.
Troy Bowe Hawaii Sr.
Ray Reed Hawaii Jr.