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USC freshman Onyeka Okongwu snubbed from Pac-12 freshman of the year award

USC’s Onyeka Okongwu acknowledges the crowd after defeating Arizona at Galen Center on Feb. 27.
USC’s Onyeka Okongwu acknowledges the crowd after defeating Arizona at Galen Center on Feb. 27.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

To those who witnessed his lone season at USC firsthand, it was painfully obvious that Onyeka Okongwu was the best freshman in the Pac-12.

He led the Trojans in points (16.2), rebounds (8.6) and blocks (2.7) per game, while leading the entire conference in field goal percentage (61.2%). Defensively, one could argue he was even better, as his work patrolling the paint on defense helped vault USC to seventh in the nation in 2-point percentage defense (43.1%).

But on Monday, when the Pac-12 announced its annual awards, Okongwu was not named the conference’s freshman of the year. That honor went to Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji.

Okongwu did earn All-Pac-12 honors, along with nine other players on the conference’s bizarrely large first team. But for his teammates, who watched him carry the load offensively all season, that wasn’t enough.

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“We all know he’s the best freshman in the conference,” guard Jonah Mathews said. “I don’t know how they decide, but everyone knows he’s the best freshman in the conference, hands down. Zeke Nnaji, you commend him, but the most purely dominant, in and out, every game, has been Onyeka.”

HBO documentary ‘Women of Troy’ deftly describes the powerhouse USC basketball team that dominated in the 1980s behind Cheryl Miller, Cheryl Cooper and the McGee twins.

Pac-12 coaches are not able to vote for their own players, but USC’s Andy Enfield made it clear he disagreed with the decision.

He had another gripe with the awards list, too.

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I thought Jonah [Mathews] should’ve been first team,” Enfield said. “He’s playing like the best shooting guard in the league right now. And Onyeka has had a special season for us.”

Mathews was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and the conference’s all-defensive team, the latter of which Enfield was pleased to see recognized.

“He’s the best defensive guard we’ve had here, other than De’Anthony Melton,” Enfield said. “Jonah has taken it to another level in his career. He can guard the ball, off-the-ball, he gets deflections. He’s great in help-side. He’s the best defender on our team by a lot.”


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