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WAC Preseason Awards: Alessandro Lever gets top billing

The Italian sophomore seems primed for a big season.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Grand Canyon Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Get ready for some new faces to pull down hardware in the WAC.

Seven out of the 10 first- or second-team all-league honorees from last season have left the conference. The lone returning member of the first-season? He gets the nod as our preseason Player of the Year, with the other two returning honorees securing spots as well.

Here’s how we see the individual accolades shaking out in 2018-19:

Player of the Year: Alessandro Lever, Soph., C, Grand Canyon

Dan Majerle was slow to hand over the reins to his Italian freshman big last year, but when he finally did, Lever ran with the opportunity. Lever boosted an inconsistent GCU offense in 2017-18, becoming the league’s highest usage offensive player during WAC play while averaging 15.8 points per game. He was also a quality rebounder (16.7 DR%, 5.4 RPG) and has upside as a three-point threat. While he loses an important frontcourt complement in Keonta Vernon, he should thrive atop a talented Lopes roster.

Newcomer of the Year: Delante Jones, RJr., G/F, Seattle

Landing the 2015 Patriot League Freshman of the Year was one of Jim Hayford’s first big wins when he took over in Seattle last summer. Jones was a proven producer over two seasons at American (11.8 PPG, 32.4 MPG), and should benefit playing for a coach that developed no shortage of quality offensive players at Eastern Washington, and oversaw a big season from Wisconsin graduate transfer guard Jordan Hill last year.

Also considered: Michael Finke, Sr., F, Grand Canyon; Mohamed Thiam, Jr., F, New Mexico State

Darkhorse Team: Seattle Redhawks

The Redhawks lost a number of graduate transfers that helped propel them to a 20-win season in 2017-18, as well as space-eating center Aaron Menzies. Yet the WAC’s returning leading scorer (Matej Kavas) is back, along with traditional transfer reinforcements Delante Jones (American), Myles Carter (Seton Hall) and Dashawn McDowell (SMU). Although the cupboard wasn’t bare, Jim Hayford was able to cobble together a quality roster in a pinch. With a returning scoring star and experienced talent that’s been in the program for a year, the Redhawks could surprise.

Also considered: Utah Valley

All-WAC Preseason First Team

Alessandro Lever, Soph., C, Grand Canyon

See above.

A.J. Harris, RJr., G, New Mexico State

The Ohio State transfer didn’t disappoint in his first year in Las Cruces, handling point guard duties for a 28-win team. Harris is a top-notch defender and match up problem in transition, and with Jemerrio Jones and Zach Lofton gone, should be primed for a leading role on the league heavyweight.

Matej Kavas, RJr., F, Seattle

The junior is one of the country’s top three-point threats, having knocked down 44.7 percent of his 284 career attempts en route to a spot on the all-league first team last year. The WAC’s returning leading scorer (15.2 PPG) should continue to be an offensive force as he’s surrounded by a talented slew of now-eligible transfers.

Jake Toolson, RSr., G/F, Utah Valley

The BYU transfer got stronger as last season wore on, flashing a well-rounded, efficient offensive game. He posted the second-best effective field goal percentage in WAC play (61.3%), while shooting nearly 45 percent from three. With his size and playmaking ability, he should continue to be a handful this season.

Xavier Bishop, Jr., G, UMKC

Bishop took a big step forward in 2017-18, and is UMKC’s unquestioned leader with Broderick Robinson gone. The ultra-quick point guard is a quality distributor, but also an efficient finisher around the rim despite being 5’8.’’ Look for him to benefit from a deeper, more experienced supporting cast, and a coach that has developed a pair of star point guards (Martez Harrison and, by necessity, LaVell Boyd) in Kansas City.

All-WAC Preseason Second Team

Conner Toolson, Sr., G, Utah Valley

Conner could’ve easily taken his cousin Jake’s spot on the first team. The senior and second-team all-WAC honoree found his three-point stroke a year ago (40.4% on 178 3PA). That mixed with his potent, harassing defense makes him one of the best all-around players in the league.

Eli Chuha, RSr., F/C, New Mexico State

Chuha saw his role slightly reduced under Chris Jans last year, but nonetheless posted a respectable season (8.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG). He remains one of the WAC’s best rebounders, and should be a big part of the Aggies’ equation in 2018-19 as he leads a deep frontcourt.

Oscar Frayer, Jr., G, Grand Canyon

The long-limbed junior is the WAC’s premier defender, and an effective rebounder. He took strides offensively last season (9.6 PPG, 36.6 3P%), and has the potential to be one of the league’s most exciting players.

Delante Jones, RJr., G/F, Seattle

See above.

Michael Finke, Sr., F, Grand Canyon

The Illinois graduate transfer has proven it in a high major conference, starting 50 games over three seasons in Champaign. His numbers should jump (9.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG) at GCU, even if he’s an imperfect fit next to Lever. Still, having too much offensive talent on the perimeter is a problem Majerle will likely take.

Also considered: Damiyne Durham, RSr., G, CSU Bakersfield; Terry Winn, Sr., F, UT Rio Grande Valley; Mohamed Thiam, Jr., F, New Mexico State; Jojo Zamora, RSr., G, New Mexico State; Rickey Holden, Sr., G, CSU Bakersfield;