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Conger lines up for a Hawks hurrah

IT'S awards season, with the NBL tonight handing out its gongs at Crown Palladium in Melbourne, the 'Gong expecting to celebrate Demitrius Conger as the league's Most Valuable Player.

But before we get to the main event, let's look at who the NBL Academy has nominated in all categories.

For Coach of the Year...

The nominees are Joey Wright for "We'll Get There in The End", Andrej Lemanis for "What? Me Worry?", Aaron Fearne for "The Foreigner", Rob Beveridge for "Going in Style", Dean Vickerman for "Daddy's Home", Paul Henare for "Gifted", Trevor Gleeson for "Welcome to the Jungle" and Andrew Gaze for "Darkest Hour".

Sentimental Favourite: For one of our youngest coaches, Paulie shows great poise and confidence but his Breakers limped in to the playoffs which no doubt will cost him.

And the Oscar goes to: Dean Vickerman.

Yes, it's easy to say United has assembled the league's greatest array of talent but we said that over the previous two years as well and Dean's predecessor still couldn't get it done. Creating the right system, developing the chemistry and getting the "buy in" should never be under-estimated and the regular season championship, despite injuries and setbacks, says it all. 

For Best Sixth Man...

The nominees are Ramone Moore (Adelaide 36ers), Reuben Te Rangi (Brisbane Bullets), Jerry Evans Jr (Cairns Taipans), Tim Coenraad (Illawarra Hawks), Craig Moller (Melbourne United), Shea Ili (NZ Breakers), Jesse Wagstaff (Perth Wildcats), Isaac Humphries (Sydney Kings).

Sentimental favourite: I love some of the work Tim Coenraad has done off the Hawks' bench. He's had some exceptional games. But he's also had some quiet ones, and the same could be said of Shea Ili, on and off with the Breakers.

And the Oscar goes to: Ramone Moore.

Joining Adelaide 36ers from a season at United which injury kept him from completing, Moore was the first new player Joey Wright signed in his 36ers revamp. Always cool and composed on the floor, Moore has not only showed his ability to fill it up - how wicked is his drive and spin move? - but also has played spot minutes at point guard and done some great things defensively.

For Rookie of the Year:

The nominees are Kuany Kuany (Cairns Taipans), Craig Moller (Melbourne United) and Isaac Humphries (Sydney Kings).

Sentimental favourite: It's hardly a deep field and with all due respect to Kuany, it's really a toss up between the other two candidates. Humphries has endured a steep learning curve and as an exciting young seven-footer with a huge upside, is the type of player for which this category is intended.

And the Oscar goes to: Craig Moller.

Yes we know Moller played some NBL minutes last year at Sydney Kings - much was made of his defection from the AFL and Fremantle to the NBL at the time - but this is his first season as a fully contracted player (apparently). Frankly, I've loved his emergence as a genuine contributor in Melbourne's championship drive which is why I had him pegged for Best Sixth Man. 

For Most Improved...

And the nominations are Majok Deng (Adelaide 36ers), Reuben Te Rangi (Brisbane Bullets), Alex Loughton (Cairns Taipans), Nick Kay (Illawarra Hawks), Tai Wesley (Melbourne United), Shea Ili (NZ Breakers), Lucas Walker (Perth Wildcats), Jason Cadee (Sydney Kings).

Sentimental favourite: This is by far the most difficult category as there really isn't a single nominee who didn't up their game in 2017-18. I liked Ili for a while, then Walker, then Loughton, then Deng. Alex Loughton claiming the gong would be a popular win.

And the Oscar goes to: Nick Kay

Yeah, we didn't see that coming either, because so many of the other nominees flashed in and out, catching our eye. But Nick Kay was busy toiling away, day-in, day-out for Illawarra, stepping up when AJ Ogilvy went down and continuing to improve. And yeah. That's what this category honours.

Best Defensive Player...

And the nominees are Mitch Creek (Adelaide 36ers), Perrin Buford (Brisbane Bullets), Mitch McCarron (Cairns Taipans), Demitrius Conger (Illawarra Hawks), Casper Ware (Melbourne United), DJ Newbill (NZBreakers), Damian Martin (Perth Wildcats), Jerome Randle (Sydney Kings).

Sentimental favourite: Damo has won this award so many times, it should be named after him. In truth though, while he remains the NBL's most inspirational captain, his ankle issues have been a factor in his season and he really hasn't been the league's top defender.

And the Oscar goes to: Mitch Creek

How embarrassing will this be for the 36ers when the club nominated him in this category, but gave its own club Best Defensive award to Nathan Sobey? Hey, it's not either player's fault but Creek has driven the Sixers with energy at both ends of the floor, fellow Mitch (McCarron) the other player also really growing in this category.

Time for an ad break and you can go to the loo while we reveal some of the NBL Academy formalities.

If you're wondering how the voting is done, clubs nominate one of their players for each award, provided, of course, he meets its criteria. Imports can't be Rookie of the Year, for example.

Following nominations, each head coach, one assistant coach and the team captain votes for each award.

OK? You're back? Glad you got that out of your system? Fine. Here come the big ones!

Referee of the Year...

Yeah. Just kidding about this being a "big one". Congratulations to Vaughan Mayberry for again winning this popularity contest and commiserations for our real Ref of the Year, Michael Aylen. But geez, he really bombed in the swimsuit category.

All Star Five...

Every player is up for this so let's flip straight to it.

The Oscars go to: Jerome Randle (Sydney Kings), Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats), Demitrius Conger (Illawarra Hawks), Daniel Johnson (Adelaide 36ers), Josh Boone (Melbourne United). Second Team: Casper Ware (Melbourne United), Mitch McCarron (Cairns Taipans), Mitch Creek (Adelaide 36ers), Tai Wesley (Melbourne United), Angus Brandt (Perth Wildcats).

Most Valuable Player...

The nominees (selected randomly) are Jerome Randle (Sydney Kings), Demitrius Conger (Illawarra Hawks), JP Tokoto (Perth Wildcats), Mitch Creek (Adelaide 36ers), Casper Ware (Melbourne United), Edgar Sosa (NZ Breakers), Perrin Buford (Brisbane Bullets), Cam Gliddon (Cairns Taipans).

Sentimental favourite: Back-to-back for Randle or an Aussie breakthrough for Creek would go over well, but both missed too many games under the current MVP voting format, Randle signed late, Creek missing games with injury.

And the Oscar goes to: Demitrius Conger

Conger may be the shortest-priced favourite since Randle last year! (But just remember, James Ennis was a hot favourite too and now there's an All Star Five trophy gathering barnacles off the jetty at Docklands). Conger did it all for Illawarra this season and would be a very worthy recipient. He's already won Illawarra's MVP. Why not the NBL's?

Feb 27

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