Foster, Pearl, Calathes claim honors on Associated Press All-SEC team
ATLANTA -- Shan Foster came up with some of his best performances when it mattered most. Now, the Vanderbilt Commodores really need him to step up.
Foster was named player of the year on the All-Southeastern Conference team announced Monday by The Associated Press after leading the league in scoring and helping the Commodores tie a school record for most regular-season victories.
Also claiming honors: Tennessee's Bruce Pearl was named coach of the year for the second time in three seasons, his reward for leading the Volunteers to their first SEC championship since 1967, and Florida freshman Nick Calathes was picked as the top newcomer.
Foster averaged 20.6 points a game, which was impressive enough to make him a unanimous choice to the first team. But he really stepped up in a victory over then-No. 1 Tennessee, scoring 32 points, and followed with a career-high 42 in the final home game of his college career, an overtime win against Mississippi State in which he hit nine straight 3-pointers.
Overall, Foster connected on more than 47 percent of his attempts outside the arc, far better than anyone else in the SEC.
"Foster looked like as good a player as there was in the conference," Pearl said. "What a difficult player to cover he was. Obviously, he played huge in our game at Vandy. And he had a huge game against Mississippi State."
Vanderbilt flopped in the SEC tournament, losing to Arkansas in the quarterfinals, but still landed the fourth seed in the Midwest Region. The Commodores (26-7) will face Siena on Friday at Tampa, Fla.
Coach Kevin Stallings will be looking for another big performance out of his 6-foot-6 senior, who has scored at least 20 points in 19 games and had a streak of six in a row until Arkansas held him to 14 at the SEC tournament.
"Obviously, Shan has been our leader, our best player and the league's best player," Stallings said. "He had a great year, and if we are going to be effective this week, then Shan will obviously have to continue to play the way he has this season."
Foster swept player of the year honors, receiving the same award from the SEC coaches last week.
Joining him on the first team were Mississippi State's Jamont Gordon (also a unanimous choice), Alabama's Richard Hendrix, South Carolina's Devan Downey and two players from Tennessee, Chris Lofton and Tyler Smith.
Pearl wasted no time building a powerhouse in Knoxville after taking over a program that had losing records in three of its four seasons with Buzz Peterson at the helm.
Arriving from little-known Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Pearl was named coach of the year in 2006 after guiding the Vols to a 22-8 record, the top spot in the SEC East and their first NCAA appearance in five years.
Tennessee (29-4) did even better this season, going 14-2 for their first regular-season title since 1967, knocking off rival Memphis on the road, and reaching No. 1 in the rankings for the first time in school history (though it lasted only a week, thanks to Foster's performance).
Coaching aside, Pearl has become nearly as well-known for his freewheeling style. He's comfortable enough in his own skin to wear a bright orange jacket when the Vols face their biggest rivals -- or to go without a shirt, as he did at a Tennessee women's game when he showed up with his torso painted orange and helped spell out "GO VOLS" with some of his players.
The players have clearly bought into his flamboyant methods. Pearl lured J.P. Prince, who started his career at Arizona, and Tyler Smith, who was playing at Iowa, back to their home state, bolstering a squad that relied heavily on depth and balance to overpower the rest of the conference.
"We're a team with a lot of weapons," Pearl said. "Our strength is our depth. Our strength is the fact that there's not just one straw in our drink. You can point to Tyler Smith. ... You can also say that we go as JaJuan Smith goes. Chris Lofton has been nothing but a rock, and then some."
The Vols were upset by Arkansas in the semifinals of the SEC tournament, likely costing them a No. 1 seed, but Pearl is convinced he still has one of the favorites heading into the NCAAs.
"From top to bottom, this is a great conference," he said. "The fact that Tennessee was able to go 14-2, given the fact that the league is so good from top to bottom, that just makes our regular-season championship that much more special."
Calathes, a 6-6 swingman, stepped in at Florida after the two-time defending national champions lost five players to the NBA. He led the league in assists (6.1) and ranked 12th in scoring (15.9), though the Gators faded at the end of the season and failed to make the NCAA tournament.
Gordon, a 6-4 junior, was voted unanimously to the first team based on an impressive body of work for SEC West champion Mississippi State. He was fifth in scoring (17.5), third in assists (4.8) and 14th in rebounding (6.3). Hendrix, a 6-8 junior, was virtually a one-man show at Alabama, leading the SEC in rebounding (10.1) and ranking fourth in scoring (17.8).
Lofton, who was the SEC player of the year in 2007, was the only repeat selection to the All-SEC first team. In fact, the 6-2 senior made it for the third year in a row after leading Tennessee and ranking 10th in the conference with 16 points a game.
"He's just one of the most dangerous players on the floor," Pearl said. "He can go off anytime and change a game."
Smith, a 6-7 sophomore, led the Vols in several categories, including field-goal percentage (53.3), rebounding (6.8) and assists (3.5).
Downey, a 5-9 sophomore, was the SEC's third-leading scorer (18.3) on a South Carolina team that struggled to a 14-18 mark in Dave Odom's final season as coach.
The second team included Calathes, Charles Rhodes of Mississippi State, Patrick Patterson and Ramel Bradley of Kentucky, Sonny Weems of Arkansas and Dwayne Curtis of Mississippi.
Georgia, which pulled off a shocking run through the SEC tournament, had to settle for one honorable mention selection, senior guard Sundiata Gaines.
The 60th annual AP All-SEC was selected by a 12-member media panel representing each of the conference's nine states.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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