Privateer duo claim Pete Maravich, Tommy Joe Eagles Memorial Awards as Louisiana Player, Coach of the Year
NEW ORLEANS – As postseason honors have come rolling in since the conclusion of the 2016-17 University of New Orleans men’s basketball campaign, it was the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches’ turn on Thursday as the organization bestowed Erik Thomas with the Pete Maravich Memorial Awards as the Louisiana Major College Player of the Year and Mark Slessinger with the Tommy Joe Eagles Memorial Award as the Louisiana Major College Coach of the Year.
The titles are the third of the postseason for Thomas and Slessinger as the pair was named Player and Coach of the Year by the Southland Conference back on March 6 by the Louisiana Sportswriters Association on April 8. Thomas becomes just the second UNO student-athlete to earn the Maravich Award as Bo McCalebb earned the honor in 2008.
Slessinger, meanwhile, is the fifth Privateers head coach to claim the Eagles Award, joining Ron Greene in 1975, Don Smith in 1983, Tim Floyd in 1989 and Tic Price in 1996 and 1997. The UNO pair will receive their respective awards at the LABC’s 43rd Annual Awards Banquet on Saturday, May 13, at 6 p.m. in the Embassy Suites Hotel in Baton Rouge, La.
“It is really special to share these awards with Erik,” Slessinger said. “We have had a great relationship since the first time we met recruiting. He has worked so very hard and it has been such a joy to watch his development and maturity as a student-athlete. I know that I speak for both of us that we are humbled and excited about receiving these awards. However, we are most excited about bringing a championship back to our campus and our city.”
The LABC award are the latest in a long list of awards heaped on Thomas this season as the 6-5 native of Wesley Chapel, Fla., was previously named honorable-mention Associated Press All-American, first-team National Association of Basketball Coaches All-Region 23, third-team College Sports Madness All-Mid Major, first-team All-Southland Conference, first-team All-Louisiana and SLC Tournament MVP to go with his Southland and Louisiana Player of the Year trophies.
He led New Orleans with 616 points, 19.3 points per game, 250 rebounds, 78 rebounds per game, 223 field goals, a 58.8 field goal percentage, 166 free throws, a 78.3 free throw percentage, 1,043 minutes played and 32.6 minutes per game. In addition, he ranked tied for second on the squad with 47 steals, fourth with 73 assists and 11 blocked shots, and tied for fourth with four 3-pointers.
Along the way, Thomas scored in double figures in all 32 games during the 2016-17 campaign 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 completed 11 point/rebound double-doubles to go with 18 multiple-assist, 17 multiple-steal and three multiple-block contests.
Thomas tied career-high marks with six assists against both Stephen F. Austin on Feb. 23 and Southeastern Louisiana on March 2, and four steals at Abilene Christian on Feb. 1. He also logged as season-best 13 rebounds vs Central Arkansas on Feb. 18 and added a pair of blocked shots vs Florida College on Nov. 25, vs Louisiana-Lafayette on Dec. 17 and against Southeastern Louisiana on Feb. 23.
“What an incredible honor for Erik, his family and our team,” Slessinger said. “For the LABC to honor Erik with the Pete Maravich Memorial Award is an incredible achievement. Just two short years ago Erik also received the LABC Junior College Player of the Year Award and now for him to receive this is tremendous. I know how much his family enjoyed the banquet and being able to see him receive his honor two years ago. I can only imagine how great of a day it will be for them to see him graduate in the morning and receive this honor that evening. Erik has worked so hard to reach these goals and we as a staff, program and University are so happy for him.”
Slessinger has been the mastermind behind the renaissance of the UNO basketball program since he arrived on the Lakefront for the 2010-11 season. Inheriting a team without a clear future, he helped the team through the uncertainty of a potential drop from the Division I level and the joining of the Southland Conference. After going through the expected growing pains associated with what can best be described as a reclamation project, things came together for the Privateers in 2016-17 as UNO finished 20-12 overall, won the Southland Conference regular-season championship with a 13-5 league record, claimed the 2017 SLC Tournament title with a 68-65 overtime victory against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and advanced to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
The team regular-season conference title was the program’s first since the 1996-97 team shared the Sun Belt championship, and the program’s conference tournament crown and subsequent trip to the NCAA Tournament was the first since 1996. After being picked to finish ninth and 10th in the SLC standings on a preseason vote of league head coaches and sports information directors, the Privateers were tied for 10th nationally in win improvement per opportunity from a year ago with a plus-9.0 margin.
The 2016-17 season marked the 15th time UNO reached the 20-win plateau and the first since going 22-7 in 1996-97 and the team’s 13 conference wins were the most since posting a 14-4 mark in Sun Belt play that same season.
UNO led the Southland Conference in assists per game (15.7), field goal percentage (.473), 3-point field goal percentage defense (.316) and fewest fouls per game (17.6) and ranked in the Top 100 nationally in 13 statistical categories. The Privateers finished 14th in turnovers forced per game (16.28), 22nd in steals per game (7.9), 31st in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.316), 39th in field goal percentage (.473) and total steals (252), 45th in assists per game (15.7), 56th in offensive rebounds per game (12.06), 61st in rebounding margin (+3.9), 76th in total assists (501) and free throws made (532), 79th in free throw attempts (749), 84th in win-loss percentage (.625) and 95th in scoring defense (69.2 ppg).
“I am beyond humbled and honored to receive the Tommy Joe Eagles Award,” Slessinger added. “Receiving this award is a tremendous honor for myself and my family. However, it is really much more of representation of our student-athletes and our incredible coaching staff who I am so lucky to work with on a daily basis.”
“This award means so much to me on so many levels. First and foremost, it is named in the honor of one of the great gentleman and teachers in the state of Louisiana in former UNO head coach Tommy Joe Eagles. Secondly, it is only something I could have dreamed of to be mentioned in the same breath as other former UNO coaches who have received this honor. Lastly so many of the former recipients of this award have invested into my life as friends, mentors and colleagues like Mike McConathy, Dave Simmons, Rickey Broussard, Billy Kennedy, Roman Banks, Don Landry and John Brady. To them, I am forever grateful.