Southland names UNO’s Erik Thomas top player, Mark Slessinger coach of the year

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Erik Thomas, Mark Slessinger

NEW ORLEANS – Two days after claiming the outright Southland title, the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament and guaranteeing the Privateers a spot in the postseason, honors have become rolling in as the University of New Orleans’ senior forward Erik Thomas and head coach Mark Slessinger were named SLC Player and Coach of the Year, respectively.

In addition, senior guard Christavious Gill claimed a spot on the honorable-mention all-conference squad and junior forward Travin Thibodeaux was named to the SLC’s All-Defensive Team. The honors are based on a vote of league head coaches and sports information directors.

Thomas becomes the first Privateer to earn first-team All-Southland Conference honors and is the first New Orleans student-athlete to earn Player of the Year recognition since Bo McCalebb earned the distinction from the Sun Belt Conference in 2006-07. Thibodeaux is the first to claim a spot on the All-Defensive Team while Slessinger is the fifth head coach in program history to claim Coach of the Year recognition and the first since Joey Stiebing did so in the SBC following the 2000-01 campaign.

“It’s as humbling a day as I’ve ever had,” Slessinger said. “The credit really goes to our staff – not just our assistant coaches but our athletic training staff with Nick Holtgrieve and Ochsner, our strength and conditioning with Coach Allen Van Norden, our academic staff led by Kirsten Elleby and Jude Young in broadcasting. It’s a team effort. All of this is possible because our team was successful, and our team is everybody that is involved with us.”

Taking the court with a team selected to finish ninth and 10th in the SLC standings based on a preseason vote by conference head coaches and sports information directors, respectively, the Privateers went on to post an 18-11 overall record and win regular-season conference title with a 13-5 league showing.

The conference championship is the first by UNO since sharing the Sun Belt in 1996-97 and the first outright title since the 1992-93 finished 18-0 in the SBC. With the SLC trophy in hand, the Privateers will be the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament and are assured of a postseason berth for the first time since playing in the 1997 NIT.

The team’s victory total is the most in six seasons under Slessinger’s watch and the most since the 2007-08 squad finished 19-13. In addition, UNO’s conference win tally is more than twice the total of the past two years combined and the most since finishing 14-4 in the Sun Belt in 1996-97.

Along the way, New Orleans led the Southland in field goal percentage (.472), assists per game (16.1) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.309). In conference-only games, the Privateers paced the league in scoring defense (65.9), scoring margin (+7.1), field goal percentage (.476), 3-point field goal percentage defense (.298), rebounding defense (30.7) and assists (15.8) while ranking second in steals per game (7.4) and rebounding margin (+4.8).

“It’s a great honor for me, but it’s also a great honor for our team,” Slessinger said. “There are also some guys that were with us before. Coach Kerwin Forges, having played for me and worked with me, I owe a debt of gratitude to him as well plus all the previous coaches I was blessed to work with and work for. Everyone had a piece in that.

“Obviously my wife and the sacrifices that she makes as a wife and a mother with our family, she deserves this award as well as my parents. There are a lot of people much more deserving than me, but I’m proud to represent our University and I’m proud to represent our program, our student-athletes and all of our staff in accepting this incredible honor.”

Thomas played in all 29 games with 26 starts during the regular season, leading the team in with 572 points scored, 19.7 points per game, 228 rebounds, 7.9 rebounds per game, 208 field goals, 152 free throws, 44 steals and a 60.3 field goal percentage. He also sits second on the team with a 76.8 free throw percentage, fourth with 66 assists and 10 blocked shots, and tied for fifth with four 3-point baskets.

He leads the Southland Conference in field goal percentage while ranking second in points per game and offensive rebounds per game (3.0), fifth in total rebounds per game, 10th in defensive rebounds per game (4.9), and 12th in both steals per game (1.5) and free throw percentage. Among all Division I men’s basketball players, he sits 19th in field goal percentage, 44th in scoring average, 53rd in offensive rebounds per game, 121st in total rebounds per game, 143rd in steals per game and 213th in defensive rebounds per game.

Thomas scored in double figures in all 29 games with 15 20-plus point contests, including a career-high 31 after sinking 11-of-15 field goals and 9-of-10 free throws vs LaGrange on Nov. 11. He also pulled down 10-or-more rebounds 10 times to complete double-doubles, including a season-best 13 vs Central Arkansas on Feb. 18, to go with 17 multiple-assist outings and 16 multiple-steal efforts.

Thomas twice tied a career-high with six assists against both Stephen F. Austin Feb. 23 and Southeastern Louisiana on March 2 to go with a career-best tying four thefts at Abilene Christian on Feb. 1.

“What an incredible honor for Erik and his teammates,” Slessinger said. “Erik has worked so hard since he’s gotten here. He’s had very defined individual goals that have always been within the team framework and our team concept. I’m so proud of how much work he’s put into it. Between him, the staff and how hard our staff worked with him and his development, he’s a self-made player. But the credit really goes to him and how hard he’s worked.

“It’s a great honor for him and we’re so humbled by that. To have his name as a conference Player of the Year etched in the lore of UNO history, he joins some serious dudes. There are some serious players on that list. What an unbelievable honor.”

The all-conference selection was the first for Thomas while Gill did so for the third-consecutive season as he was named honorable-mention as a sophomore in 2014-15 while garnering third-team recognition last year.

Gill started 28 of 29 games so far in 2016-17, leading the team with 553-point baskets (55) while ranking second in with 336 points scored, 11.6 points per game, 110 field goals and 82 assists. He also ranks third on the squad with a 31.8 3-point percentage and 40 steals, fifth with 61 free throws and a 70.9 free throw percentage, and tied for fifth with three blocked shots to go with 2.2 rebounds per outing.

Among SLC players, Gill sits seventh in 3-pointers per game (1.9), 14th in steals per game (1.38) and 26th in points per game. His steals average ranks 217th in the nation.

He scored in double figures 20 times with two 20-plus point performances, including a season-best 23 on the strength of five 3-pointers among eight field goals and a pair of free throws at Tulsa on Nov. 19, and pulled down five or more rebounds on four occasions, including a career-high tying six boards at Southern California on Nov. 22. Gill handed out a season-best five assists on five occasions, added nine multiple-steal outings and blocked a career-best two shots at Northwestern on Dec. 11.

“It just shows what caliber of a player Christavious is, to be honored all-league three years in a row,” Slessinger said. “It’s amazing. For a 5-8 player who had one Division I scholarship offer to be in the Top 10 of the all-time scoring list here, what an amazing accomplishment for him. And I know for him, this is a great honor for his family, his high school and his high school coach. They’re such a close-knit group. It shows how big of a heart that kid has, how hard he’s worked and his skill set. He, along with our other seniors, are why we’re in the position we’re in today.”

Thibodeaux, meanwhile, played in all 29 games with 28 starts this year, leading the team with 99 assists (99) while sitting second with 217 rebounds, 7.5 rebounds per game and 41 steals, tied for second in 15 blocked shots, third with 252 points scored, 95 field goals and a 50.8 field goal percentage, and fourth with 8.7 points per game, 87 free throws made and a 71.3 free throw percentage.

He ranks sixth in the Southland Conference in total rebounds per game, seventh in defensive rebounds per game (5.4), ninth in assists per game (3.4), 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.2), 14th in offensive rebounds per game (2.1) and 15th in steals per game (1.4), and sits 139th nationally in total boards per outing, 142nd in defensive rebounds per contest and 199th in steals per game.

In a game against Florida College back on Nov. 25, Thibodeaux posted just the third triple-double in UNO history and the first since 2009 with a career-high 11 assists, to go with 10 rebounds and 10 points while logging a career-best six steals. He scored in double figures 15 times with a career-best 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and a 4-of-4 effort from the free throw line at Abilene Christian on Feb. 1, and tallied five double-doubles when including his effort vs. Florida College.

For the season, Thibodeaux pulled down seven-plus rebounds 20 times, handed out four-or-more assists on 12 occasions and tallied eight multiple-steal outings. He also recorded a season-high two blocked shots vs. Abilene Christian on Dec. 29, at Lamar on Jan. 5 and at Incarnate Word on Jan. 7.

“Travin has had amazing development,” Slessinger added. “He’s such an incredible athlete and I think the league saw this year his skill set defensively. He has such an incredible athletic skill set, he can literally guard a point guard through a center. We put him on all different matchups throughout the year. He rebounded the ball at such a high rate on the defensive end. He was there to take away and discourage so much as far as dribble drives and rim attacks. He’s been such a great rim protector and it’s a great honor for him and his family, as well as the rest of our team.”

The Privateers will return to action on Friday, March 10, when they open play in the Southland Conference Tournament in the Leonard E. Merrell Center in Katy, Texas. As the league’s top-seeded team, UNO will enjoy a double-bye and open tourney play on Friday, March 10, at 5 p.m. against an opponent yet to be determined.

That game is slated to be broadcast live on ESPN3 and the winner of the SLC Tournament will receive the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. For tickets to the SLC Tournament, which is slated to run from March 8-11 in Katy, Texas, click HERE.

2016-17 All-Southland Conference Men’s Basketball Teams

First Team Institution Pos. Class Hometown
Erik Thomas New Orleans F Sr. Wesley, Chapel, Fla.
Rashawn Thomas3 Texas A&M-CC F Sr. Oklahoma City, Okla.
Jordan Howard 2 Central Arkansas G Jr. Chandler, Ariz.
Colton Weisbrod Lamar F Jr. Nederland, Texas
Ehab Amin Texas A&M-CC G Jr. Alexandria, Egypt
Second Team Institution Pos. Class Hometown
TJ Holyfield Stephen F. Austin F So. Albuquerque, N.M.
Jalin Hart UIW G Jr. Houston, Texas
Colter Lasher Houston Baptist F Sr. Anchorage, Alaska
Josh Ibarra Houston Baptist C Jr. Angleton, Texas
Reveal Chukwujekwu Houston Baptist G/F Sr. Houston, Texas
Third Team Institution Pos. Class Hometown
Marlain Veal Southeastern La. G So. Gretna, La.
Liam Thomas Nicholls C Sr. Sydney, Australia
Aurimas Majauskas 2 Sam Houston State F/C Sr. Marijampole, Lithuania
John Dewey III Sam Houston State G So. Bronx, N.Y.
Jalone Friday Abilene Christian C Fr. Oklahoma City, Okla.

2 indicates two-time all-conference selection
3 indicates three-time all-conference selection

Honorable Mention: Derreck Brooks, Central Arkansas; Ja’Dante’ Frye, Nicholls; Christavious Gill, New Orleans; Simi Socks, UIW; Sabri Thompson, Northwestern State

All-Defensive Team Institution Pos. Class Hometown
Liam Thomas 2 Nicholls C Sr. Sydney, Australia
Ehab Amin Texas A&M-CC G Jr. Alexandria, Egypt
Rashawn Thomas2 Texas A&M-CC F Sr. Oklahoma City, Okla.
Paul Baxter Sam Houston State G Sr. Austin, Texas
Travin Thibodeaux New Orleans F Jr. Plaquemine, La.

2 indicates three-time all-defensive team selection

Player of the Year: Erik Thomas, New Orleans
Defensive Player of the Year: Liam Thomas, Nicholls
Freshman of the Year: Jalone Friday, Abilene Christian
Newcomer of the Year: Jalin Hart, UIW
Coach of the Year: Mark Slessinger, New Orleans

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Richie Weaver

Richie Weaver

Director of Athletic Media Relations, University of New Orleans

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