Kansas seniors Jeff Withey, Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson and redshirt freshman Ben McLemore highlight KU's selections to the 2013 All-Big 12 Men's Basketball awards announced Sunday. The all-conference awards were voted on by the league's head coaches who were not allowed to vote for their own student-athletes.
For the second straight season, Withey is the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He was joined on the 2013 All-Big 12 First Team by McLemore. Releford was a second-team all-conference selection, while Johnson earned honorable mention all-league.
Withey and Releford were named to the six-person Big 12 All-Defensive Team, while McLemore was selected to the six-person Big 12 All-Rookie Team. There were ties in the coaches' votes for the defensive and rookie teams, hence six players listed.
"I'm happy for all of them" Kansas head coach Bill Self said. "We knew Ben and Jeff would be on the first team but I feel sometimes when you have guys on the first team it could split the vote for player of the year. Marcus Smart is a very deserving player of the year in leading Oklahoma State to a good finish in the league and an NCAA Tournament bid. Any of those four - Ben, Jeff, (Kansas State's Rodney) McGruder and Smart - could have been player of the year."
"Travis and Jeff both deserve to be on the All-Defensive team and it's great for Jeff being named the defensive player of the year for the second straight season," Self said. "I'm glad Elijah is honorable mention. I am so pleased for Travis to make second team. He's put so much time into this program. He's the rock nobody talks about."
Withey becomes the second Jayhawk to earn Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in consecutive seasons, joining former KU center Cole Aldrich who was named for the honor in 2009 and 2010. Withey has 124 blocked shots, a total that ranks fourth on the single-season Big 12 chart after he set the record of 140 in 2011-12. He is the Kansas and Big 12 career blocked shots leader at 289.
"This is a big honor to be named the defensive player of the year for two straight years in such a tough conference," Withey said. "These are prestigious honors from the coaches and to have my other teammates listed throughout those awards shows how much of a team we have been (this season)."
McLemore has nine games of 20 or more points in 2012-13, including three 30-point efforts against Big 12 competition. Releford and Johnson are appearing on All-Big 12 squads for the first time in their careers. A lockdown defender, Releford leads KU with 37 steals this season, while Johnson has a team-high 149 assists in 2012-13.
"I'm happy for all those guys," Self said. "They are all very deserving. Individual awards are terrific but I know our guys are focused on team achievements, which mean much more."
Kansas, which tied Kansas State in winning its ninth-straight, 13th Big 12 and NCAA-leading 56th overall regular-season conference championship in 2013, placed two student-athletes on the All-Big 12 First Team for the second straight year and the sixth time in the last seven seasons. The Jayhawks have had two first teamers nine times in the 17-year history of the Big 12, which began in 1996-97.
No. 4/3 Kansas (26-5, 14-4) will enter the 2013 Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship as the No. 1 seed and will play in the quarterfinals of the event on Thursday, March 14, at 2 p.m. (Central). The Jayhawks will face the winner of the No. 8 West Virginia versus No. 9 Texas Tech game to be played Wednesday, March 13, at 6 p.m. The event will be held at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.