COLLEGE BASKETBALL: WSU's Kyle Smith, Myles Rice crowned Pac-12's coach, freshman of the year

Mar. 13—Forget historic basketball programs like UCLA and Arizona, the last ever coach and freshman of the year in Pac-12 Conference men's hoops as we know it are members of the Washington State Cougars.

WSU coach Kyle Smith and freshman point guard Myles Rice were named the league's coach of the year and freshman of the year, respectively, when the men's basketball honors were announced Tuesday.

In addition to being named the league's top freshman, Rice also made the all-conference first team and, understandably, the all-freshman team.

Senior forward Isaac Jones (first team) and junior forward Jaylen Wells (honorable mention) were also honored by the league. The awards were voted on by the Pac-12 coaches.

"I think it was well-deserved," Smith said. "I think we were one game out of first place and if we'd been able to get one more than we could've been tied. But second place is quite an honor for a Power Five conference to say the least.

"It's neat to see them rewarded. They deserve it."

Smith's coaching honor comes after he scrambled together a team that was picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 after losing most of its star players and instead led them to a 23-8 overall record, a 14-6 league record and a second-place finish in the regular season.

He is the fourth Cougar coach to be named the John R. Wooden coach of the year and the first since Tony Bennett in 2007.

"(It's) 'coach of the year,' but obviously you have to have good players and we had three all-league guys," Smith said. "It makes coaching a lot easier to have those guys."

Cookin' like Rice

Rice might be the single biggest surprise in the Pac-12.

After not playing basketball for over two years and beating Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2023, Rice burst onto the scene in the fall as the facilitator at WSU's point guard position.

Rice is among league leaders in scoring (13th, 15.3 points per game), assists (fourth, 3.9 per game) and steals (fifth, 1.55 per game). His 35 points in an 89-75 victory at Stanford on Jan. 18 set a WSU freshman record and were the most in a game for a conference freshman since 2017.

Rice was named the Pac-12 freshman of the week seven times this season and became the first player in conference history to win it four straight times.

The Columbia, S.C., native also broke WSU freshman records in single-season points (473), field goals attempted (385) and steals (48).

"I knew he was good, (but I) didn't want to put the pressure on him and tell everybody he was good," Smith said. "And then he was better than I thought, so it's neat to see that."

Jones and Wells shine

Jones, a senior transfer from the Idaho Vandals, has shined since making the eight-mile trek over from Moscow.

The 6-foot-9 forward is the team's leading scorer at 15.4 points per game and his 58% shooting ranks fourth in the Pac-12 and 28th nationally. A menace in the paint, Jones is also fourth in the Pac-12 in rebounding at 7.6 boards per game.

Wells, an All-American transfer from Division-II's Sonoma State, is most known for his stellar 3-point shooting. He averages 12.2 points per game and has reached double figures 21 times this season.

Wells scored 27 points and had the game-clinching four-point play to lead the Cougs over No. 4 Arizona on Feb. 22 for their best road win in program history.

The official Pac-12 honors are voted by the coaches, but the Cougs also received several awards in the media voting. The media also picked Smith as coach of the year and Rice as freshman of the year. However, Jones and Rice were relegated to the all-conference second team by the media.

Washington State is the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament and will begin postseason play against the winner of Stanford vs. Cal at 6 p.m. Thursday in Las Vegas.

Pac-12 men's basketball honors

Individual honors

Player of the year — Caleb Love, Arizona.

Coach of the year — Kyle Smith, Washington State.

Freshman of the year — Myles Rice, Washington State.

Defensive player of the year — Adem Bona, UCLA.

Sixth player of the year — Koren Johnson, Washington.

Most improved player of the year — Maxime Raynaud, Stanford.

First team

Forward — Isaac Jones, sr., Washington State

Guard — Myles Rice, fr., Washington State

Center — Oumar Ballo, sr., Arizona

Forward — Adem Bona, so., UCLA

Forward — Keion Brooks, sr., Washington

Center — Branden Carlson, sr., Utah

Center — N'Faly Dante, sr., Oregon

Guard — Caleb Love, sr., Arizona

Guard — KJ Simpson, jr., Colorado

Guard — Jaylon Tyson, jr., California

All-freshman team

Guard — Myles Rice, Washington State

Guard — Isaiah Collier, USC

Guard — Sebastian Mack, UCLA

Guard — Jackson Shelstad, Oregon

Forward — Cody Williams, Colorado

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, or on Twitter @StephanSports.