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Big East selects Hurley Coach of the Year, Castle top freshman

Mar. 13—NEW YORK — Stephon Castle stepped to the podium in the Theater at Madison Square Garden after receiving his Big East Freshman of the Year honor on Wednesday.

Castle admitted being more nervous making his acceptance speech than he would be attempting free throws with the game on the line.

"Easier to hit the free throw, for sure," Castle said.

Castle made winning the award look easy, earning a record 11 Big East Freshman of the Week honors this season. He led all Big East freshmen in points (11.8 per game), rebounds (4.4) and assists (3.0) in league action and also played terrific defense.

Big East coaches voted Castle a unanimous choice and also named UConn's Dan Hurley the league's Coach of the Year.

"It was just super cool," Castle said. "A lot of credit goes to my teammates, my coaches. They put me in great positions to be great this year. So I just give big thanks to them."

Castle is the sixth UConn player to be selected the Big East's top rookie, first since Rudy Gay in 2004-05. Other winners include Khalid El-Amin (1997-98), Doron Sheffer (1993-94), Nadav Henefeld (1989-90) and Earl Kelley (1982-83). During UConn's stint in the American Athletic Conference, Daniel Hamilton won the award in 2014-15.

"It was definitely in the back of my mind as the season went on," Castle said. "When you're winning, you get blinded by it a little bit. It's just a part of it, really."

Castle's parents, Stacey and Quannette, made the trip from Georgia for the awards ceremony.

"I'm just super excited for him," Stacey said. "It's a blessing. I know it's something that he has worked hard to earn. Not something that was necessarily on his radar but I know he's put in the work. So to see him achieve that through his work, it's beautiful. I'm happy for him."

Hurley won the Big East Coach of the Year for the first time. He's the first UConn coach to accomplish the feat since Jim Calhoun won his fourth honor in 1997-98.

Castle and Hurley helped lead the Huskies to the program's first Big East regular-season outright title since 1999 and to a regular-season record-setting 18 conference wins. UConn also set a program record for regular-season wins with 28.

It's the first time since 1997-98 that UConn won both the coach and freshman awards in the same season, with Calhoun and El-Amin previously being honored.

"In this league, iron sharpens iron," said Hurley, who earned Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year in 2017-18 while at Rhode Island. "The roster of coaches is incredible, the accomplishments. It is a true robin-round (format). Then the places are some of the hardest places to go and win."

But UConn's celebration was tempered by the fact Alex Karaban didn't make any All-Big East teams that were released on Sunday.

"To be honest with you, initially there wasn't a lot of celebration when a lot of this stuff came out and we became aware of it," Hurley said. "It was awkward because we all felt like Alex Karaban, for the second year in a row, was not rewarded. That kind of spoiled it a little bit for all of us, because there wasn't a lot of celebrating in your group when you feel like somebody in your group didn't get what they deserved."

Providence junior Devin Carter emerged from a talented field to win the Big East Player of the Year. Earlier this week, Carter was one of four unanimous picks to the All-Big East first team along with UConn's Tristen Newton, Creighton's Baylor Scheierman and Marquette's Tyler Kolek.

Carter was the Big East scoring champion at 21.4 points in league games and ranked third overall in rebounding at 8.6. He's the second Friar to win the award, joining two-time winner Kris Dunn (2014-15, 2015-16), a former New London High School great, on the short list.

UConn's depth likely hurt Newton's cause. Newton leads the Huskies in scoring (15.0), rebounding (7.1) and assists (5.8). On Tuesday, he was named the Associated Press Big East Player of the Year and as a first team All-American by Sporting News.

"Tristen had a great case," Hurley said. "We had Cam (Spencer), too, Donovan (Clingan), Alex and Steph. We had so many outstanding players. Devin had an incredible year, too, and Scheierman. This was tough in this league this year. It was tough for all-conference. Maybe we need to add a third team.

"I know he won the AP one and we've also seen him on some All-American teams. He's going to be up in the building, it looks like, on the (Werth Center practice facility) walls and reach immortality in the building."

Top-seeded UConn (28-3) begins tournament play in the quarterfinals at noon Thursday against the winner of Wednesday's first-round game between No. 8 Butler and No. 9 Xavier.

In other news, Marquette's Oso Ighodaro was named the Big East Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

g.keefe@theday.com