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America East preseason awards: A heavy dose of the Catamounts

Anthony Lamb and his teammates are back for more.

Vermont v Purdue Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Last year in the America East, the story was largely centered around Vermont’s perfect season. In that regard, we could easily see deja vu. The Catamounts are as loaded as ever and return all the key players that led to their sweep of the conference. However, two other strong coaches in Stony Brook’s Jeff Boals and UMBC’s Ryan Odom are clearly concocting revenge. And don’t forget Albany. The perennial second place finishers are ready to make a name of their own. This season won’t be a cake walk for the Catamounts.

Individual American East Awards

Player of the Year: Anthony Lamb (Vermont)

I’m a huge Lamb fan and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say he wins POY as a sophomore. He wasn’t short of phenomenal last year with 12.8 rebounds and 5.5 rebounds in just 22 minutes of playing time. Imagine what he’ll do with more time on the court. Better yet, he can really shoot the ball for a primarily interior player. He shot over 50% from the field and 41% from three. With some free-throw tuning up this offseason, he really will be a force to be reckoned with for Vermont’s opponents.

Rookie of the Year: Anthony Ochefu (Stony Brook):

Rookie of the Year is always a tough position to predict because high school performances vary from place to place. Ochefu may have a well-known brother in former Villanova star Daniel Ochefu, but he certainly has the talents to be a recruiting steal as well. He was a glue guy in helping his high school win their league, where almost averaged a double-double, something that he could do at Stony Brook.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jahad Thomas (UMass-Lowell):

Thomas is the clear runner-up for POY, if not the favorite. He’s the best scorer in conference with a stat line of 18.3 points, nine rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. He may even mean more to his team than Lamb does right now, but I see Lamb’s game being more complete. With that said, Thomas is also a beast defensively. He is a rebounding machine, but also can guard the perimeter very well with as show by his 1.6 steals per game. He’s your shut down defender any time of the day.

Sixth Man of the Year: Travis Charles (Albany)

Charles only averaged 17 minutes per game last year but he made his presence felt with 7.9 points and 3.5 assists per game. He scored in double-digits eight times last year. On a guard heavy team, he can be counted on to fill the forward or guard position, and he did just that when playing Vermont in the America East championship game last year.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Boals (Stony Brook)

Boals has turned this team around in just over a year with the program, and he has a second place record to show for it. Players like De’Angelo Russell and Jared Sullinger to this day credit Boals with being instrumental in helping them grow as players and I’m sure that’s surely the case at Stony Brook. Another top-tier finish will solidify Boals as one of the best new coaches in the game.

First Team

Anthony Lamb (Vermont)

David Nichols (Albany):

Another top scorer, there is no way that Nichols doesn’t make this team this year. Last year, he was remembered for scoring 40 points off of eight threes in a game against Hartford, but he is much more than that. He’s a great playmaker, loading on the assists each game and always finding a way to get to the line. If he can be consistent from three and turn the ball over a bit less, he could find himself making America East history.

Jahad Thomas (UMass-Lowell)

Jairus Lyles (UMBC):

Lyles is by far the best player on this UMBC squad. He scored 20+ points in 15 competitions last year and led the Retrievers to an admirable 21-13 record. As a super senior, Lyles will be out for blood and will again be tasked with leading his team.

Tyrell Sturdivant (Stony Brook): Sturdivant has a chance to be the man for Stony Brook. He’s the most balanced player on the team, and averaged 10.6 points and 5.4 rebounds last year. The most impressive part might be that he did that all without shooting a three last year. Though that stat in itself can be a little concerning, Sturdivant is strong in the paint and that’s what will get him a first team mention.

Second Team

Trae Bell-Haynes (Vermont):

This may seem like a step down for Haynes after being POY last year, but I truly only see it as a result of being on a team with Lamb. Haynes will still be the leading playmaker for the Catamounts while also being counted on as a sharpshooter.

Joe Cremo (Albany):

Joe Cremo, doesn’t that name just sound fit for March Madness? Cremo had three games last year with four or more threes, but for Albany to have a chance at knocking down Vermont, he’s going to have to do that more frequently. However, Cremo’s strength is free-throw shooting. He ended the year with 87% of free throws made and that could also be a secret weapon for the Great Danes.

K.J. Maura (UMBC):

This Puerto Rican floor general only played a year with UMBC after transferring from Abilene Christian University, and he’s already making a name for himself. He led the Retrievers with 4.3 assists per game and also shot 89% from the line, making him poised for an even better year next season.

Tanner Leissner (UNH): Leissner is not the strongest three-point shooter with only 28% of his shots made last year, but he makes up for that by being a force inside like Thomas Walkup was at Stephen F. Austin. He’s the go-to guy for the Wildcats and the one you want with the game on the line. He averaged 17.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last year.

Payton Henson (Vermont):

Sure, Henson was hurt in five games last year, hurting Vermont a bit. But when he was back, he was back. He pairs so well with Lamb, shooting 51% from FG range and being a double-double threat any game. Watch out for him during his senior year and second for Vermont.