March 5, 2002
NEW YORK, N.Y. - Notre Dame freshman point guard Chris Thomas (Indianapolis, Ind.) has been named the BIG EAST Conference Rookie of the Year, joining senior forward and first team all-BIG EAST selection Ryan Humphrey (Tulsa, Okla.) as the top Irish honorees from the annual BIG EAST awards.
Thomas - also one of two freshmen to receive all-BIG EAST honors, as a third-team election - set the Notre Dame record for assists in a season (219) while ranking as the second-leading scorer (16.0 ppg) on the 20-9 Irish squad. He leads the BIG EAST with 7.5 assists per game, also averaging 2.2 steals and shooting 89.1 percent from the foul line. The six-time BIG EAST rookie of the week also owns a 2.90 assist-to-turnover ratio and has either scored or assisted on nearly half (44.1 percent) of Notre Dame's baskets this season.
Notre Dame freshman forward Jacqueline Batteast (South Bend, Ind.) earlier was named the BIG EAST's rookie of the year in women's basketball, marking the first time in BIG EAST history that one school has produced the year's top rookies in both men's and women's basketball (spanning the 20-year history of BIG EAST women's basketball).
Humphrey's selection to the elite first team marked the fifth time in the last six seasons that Notre Dame has produced a BIG EAST first-teamer - the most first teamers in that six-year stretch among the 14-team BIG EAST (Connecticut, St. John's and Syracuse each have totaled four first teamers since '97). Four different SJU players have been first teamers in the past six years, while three from individuals from Notre Dame, UConn and Syracuse have received the honor (including ND's Pat Garrity in '97 and '98 and Troy Murphy in 2000 and '01).
Notre Dame became the sixth team in the 23-year history of BIG EAST basketball to produce multiple BIG EAST rookies of the year (also Murphy in 1999). Just three previous teams have produced a pair of top rookies in a similar four-year stretch: Pittsburgh's Sean Miller ('88) and Brian Shorter ('89), Dwayne Washington ('84) and Derrick Coleman ('87) of Syracuse, and Georgetown's Othella Harrington ('93) and Allen Iverson ('95).
Notre Dame joined Syracuse as the only BIG EAST teams to produce a first teamer in each of the past three seasons (the 2000 SU pair of Jason Hart and Eton Thomas, plus Preston Shumpert in '01 and '02).
UConn forward Caron Butler and Pittsburgh guard Brandin Knight were named co-BIG EAST Players of the Year for 2002 while Pittsburgh's Ben Howland was the league's coach of the year, Providence guard John Linehan repeated as defensive player of the year and Miami guard John Salmons received the inaugural BIG EAST Sportsmanship Award.
All of the awards were determined by a vote of the conference's head coaches, who were not permitted to vote for their own players. The awards were presented at the Grand Hyatt Hotel prior to the 2002 ConAgra Foods BIG EAST Championship, which will be played at Madison Square Garden on March 6-9.
Notre Dame's final regular-season win over Providence gave the Irish a 21-11 record in BIG EAST regular-season games during the past two seasons, the first of the Mike Brey era. Brey owns one of the top two-year starts in BIG EAST history, with his Irish teams winning nearly 70 percent of their regular-season conference games during the past two seasons (.656).
Brey's two-year start ranks fifth-best in BIG EAST men's basketball history - and third-best since the dawning of the conference in the early 1980s. The only coaches to post a better BIG EAST winning percentage in their first two seasons include current St. John's coach Mike Jarvis (26-8/.765 in 1998-99 and '99-'00) and three former coaches: Pittsburgh's Paul Evans (24-8/.750 in '86-'87 and '87-'88), Georgetown's John Thompson (14-6/.700 in '79-'80 and '80-'81) and Villanova's Rollie Massimino (19-9/.679 in '80-'81 and '81-'82).
Brey's 21 wins after two BIG EAST seasons trail only Jarvis (26) and Evans (24) in the BIG EAST record book.