I don't think my picks for mid-season NEC awards have surprised a lot of readers. As I mentioned before, I haven't included players in the first two awards that I haven't seen live. Although, I am not sure that would have made a huge difference. The non-traditional awards below aren't statistically supported (except one), and based entirely on aspects of the game that I personally appreciate.
Tough as Nails Award - Joe O'Shea - Senior guard - Bryant Bulldogs
In 40 minutes at the Sewall Center last month, O'Shea took two blows to the face; one of which was definitely an elbow. While a guy like Vince Carter may have needed carted off the court, O'Shea still managed to get back on the defensive end both times and play never stopped.
He came out of halftime with a plug in his nose to stop the bleeding and pretty much cemented a first-place finish for this award in the process. Every coach in America wants a Joe O'Shea on their team.
Most Intense Award - Mustafaa Jones - Senior guard - Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
Fairleigh Dickinson never seriously challenged the Robert Morris Colonials in their matchup last Thursday, but you wouldn't know that from the way Jones carried himself. When he wasn't giving it his all with the ball in his hands, Jones was directing traffic and tuning out the crowd. He was breathing heavy from the opening tip and didn't relent until the final buzzer sounded.
Biggest Competitor Award - Phil Gaetano - Senior guard - Sacred Heart
I've seen Gaetano live twice. Both times he worked the officials like a 12-year NBA veteran. Not the whining type that never runs back on defense, but the kind that respectfully takes a moment during a stoppage in play to point out a few things he'd like the referee to look at going forward.
I also particularly enjoyed the fact that he absolutely refused to back down from Robert Morris point guard Kavon Stewart in the closing minutes of a lopsided defeat. He refused to allow Stewart to drive past him and was open about letting him know. I openly root for guys that work the subtle arts of the game and are visually competitive. It lets me know that they are trying to win at every aspect of the game for 40 minutes.
Sportsmanship Award - Dyami Starks - Senior guard - Bryant Bulldogs
In a last ditch effort to help his team win, Colonials guard/forward Lucky Jones dove into the crowd for a loose ball and was injured in the process. Rather than run back with his team to celebrate a hard-fought victory, Starks' attention was on Jones and his well-being. He even went as far to call over Bryant's trainer, and remained invested in the situation for several minutes. Kudos to Dyami Starks.
Damian Lillard Chip on my Shoulder Award - Lucky Jones - Senior guard/forward - Robert Morris Colonials
Write this guy off at your own peril; you've been warned. It's true that Jones isn't enjoying the kind of year that most expected, but that doesn't mean he's having a bad year. His floor numbers and splits are relatively the same as last season, per Hoops-Math. His advanced metrics for NEC games are actually better, especially in the efficiency department. You aren't going to find another player in the conference that is a top-10 player crashing the boards and a top-10 player connecting from beyond the arc.