Courtesy of K-State Athletics
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Sophomore guard Nijel Pack was among three Wildcats to earn recognition by the Big 12 coaches for their outstanding play, as he was selected as the league’s Most Improved Player as well as All-Big 12 First Team as the conference office announced its annual men’s basketball awards on Sunday evening (March 6).
Pack was joined on the awards list by fifth-year senior Mark Smith, who was named to the All-Big 12 Third Team and All-Newcomer Team, and junior Markquis Nowell, who was named All-Big 12 Honorable Mention and to the All-Defensive Team. It marks the first time since 2019 that the Wildcats have had multiple players represented on the All-Big 12 First, Second or Third Teams.
Pack is just the sixth K-State player in the Big 12 era to earn First Team honors by the league coaches and the first since Barry Brown, Jr. and Dean Wade were both selected to the First Team in 2019. He is the first Wildcat to be named the conference’s Most Improved Player, which started in 2019-20.
Smith is just the 16th Wildcat in the Big 12 era to earn recognition to one of the three All-Big 12 Teams and one of five to be selected to the All-Newcomer Team and the first since Brown and Wade were both honored in 2016. Nowell is the seventh Wildcat to be named to the All-Defensive Team and first since Brown in 2019.
Big 12 regular-season co-champions Baylor and Kansas headlined the individual awards, as Jayhawk senior Ochai Agbaji was the unanimous Player of the Year, while Bear senior Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua was one of three players to tie for Defensive Player of the Year, along with Oklahoma State’s Moussa Cisse and West Virginia’s Gabe Osabuohien, and Bear freshman Jeremy Sochan won Sixth Man Award. Head coach Scott Drew was selected as the league’s Coach of the Year for the third consecutive season.
Iowa State’s Izaiah Brockington and Tyrese Hunter rounded out the individual honors by being named Newcomer and Freshman of the Year, respectively.
The All-Big 12 awards are selected by league’s 10 head coaches, who are not allowed to vote for their own players.
Pack has enjoyed a remarkable sophomore season, emerging as one of top scorers and 3-point shooters in the country. He is averaging a team-best 17.4 points on 45.7 percent (170-of-372) shooting, including 43.6 percent (92-of-211) from 3-point range to go with 3.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 32.8 minutes per game. He is the team leader in scoring, double-digit scoring games (27), field goals (170) and 3-point field goals (92). He finished the Big 12 regular season ranking fourth in scoring, including second (18.6 ppg.) in conference-only games.
Pack ranks among the top-15 nationally in both 3-point field goal percentage (43.6/7th) and 3-point field goals made (3.29/14th), while he currently leads the Big 12 in both categories. His 92 made 3-point field goals this season rank fourth in school history in a single season and are the most since Jacob Pullen tied the school record with 110 during the 2009-10 season. He already owns the sophomore record for 3-point makes, while he currently has hit a 3-pointer in a school-record 33 consecutive games dating back to last season.
Smith has made the most of his extra season at K-State, as the fifth-year senior leads the Wildcats in double-doubles (8), rebounding (8.5 rpg.) and defensive rebounds (6.7 drpg.), while he ranks second in scoring (12.6 ppg.), 20-point games (5) and double-digit scoring games (22). He is on track to be the shortest player to lead a power conference in rebounding, while he finished second in the Big 12 in double-doubles. Smith’s 256 total rebounds this season are the most since Michael Beasley set the school record with 408 in 2007-08.
Nowell had one of the bigger impacts for the Wildcats this season, as the transfer leads the team in both assists (132) and steals (58), while is second in scoring (12.6 ppg.) and double-doubles (3) and third in 20-point games (3) and double-digit scoring game (19). He currently ranks 16th nationally and first in the Big 12 in steals (2.3 spg.), while he is 34th and second in the league in assists (5.1 apg.).
Nowell is one of just 2 Big 12 players (along with Baylor’s James Akinjo) to rank in the top-10 in scoring (10th) and top-5 in steals (1st), assists (2nd) and assist/turnover ratio (2nd). His 3 points/assists double-doubles this season are the most-ever by a Wildcat in both a single season and career, while he nearly tallied the school’s first recorded triple-double against Marquette on December 8 with 11 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds in 37 minutes.
K-State is the No. 8 seed at this week’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City and will play No. 9 seed West Virginia (15-16, 4-14 Big 12) at 6 p.m., CT on Wednesday on ESPNU.