Basketball News 2023: NBL awards 2023, Kings star Xavier Cooks wins MVP, Antonius Cleveland, Mitch Creek

Xavier Cooks’ 2023 NBL MVP crown is a win for the late bloomers.

The Sydney Kings’ star is the toast of the league but even he says it once seemed like a far-fetched dream.

“This is really new to me,” Cooks told News Corp as he clutched the Andrew Gaze Trophy.

“I’m the kind of guy that never made Australian teams, never made bottom-age teams.

“I’m really enjoying the journey.”

Cooks, 27, has enjoyed a rapid emergence as a bona fide Australian basketball star over the past two years — a testament to his refusal to give up, despite the lack of elite-team recognition.

“I think it helped keep me hungry,” he said.

“It helped me get that hunger to keep getting better and better and never be satisfied.

“I’m starting to build some confidence in myself as I’m starting to pile up these awards.”

That confidence extends to the Kings’ back-to-back title chances after the league’s top individual award was added to a trophy cabinet that features the NBL finals MVP he won in last year’s title run, along with this season’s a top-of-the-table finish.

“It’s something really crazy. Right now, a lot of emotions are going through my head,” he said.

“I have so much respect for so many people in that room and to be considered the most valuable player, it’s going to take a couple of days to sink in, for sure.”

An MVP trophy that once seemed “unachievable and unrealistic” has now been ticked off and the NBA might be next — much sooner than anyone might expect.

“The thankful thing is, we finish our season early this year and you can still sign as a free agent over there, so I would love to do something like that after we hopefully win the championship,” Cooks said.

“It’s a bit of a far-fetched dream but so was winning this award.

“Dream big and see what happens.”

Cooks did it all this season, averaging 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists and dominating both ends of the floor as a hyper-efficient anchor for the Kings.

Ballarat-born Cooks, who grew up in Wollongong while father Eric played for the Hawks, was a runaway winner beating out Perth’s triple-MVP Bryce Cotton by 24 votes. Star South East Melbourne forward Mitch Creek was third.

He joins Andrew Bogut and Jaylen Adams as the third King in the past five seasons to take home the award.

The trio of MVP finalists were joined in the All-NBL First Team by versatile Tasmania guard Milton Doyle and Kings’ floor general Derrick Walton Jr.

Adelaide 36ers’ star Antonius Cleveland’s rugged defence helped him make it consecutive Damian Martin trophies.

The American was named Defensive Player of the Year in a field of three which sparked controversy during the week.

The Kings’ hierarchy was miffed Cooks and lockdown wing Justin Simon were not named among the three finalists. Even Martin, himself, had Simon winning the award.

Cleveland, who was the reigning winner after his brilliant season in Illawarra, used his supreme athleticism to impact games at the defensive end — although his team struggled to contain opponents.

Cairns mentor Adam Forde held off New Zealand’s Mody Maor and Sydney’s Chase Buford for the Coach of the Year after spearheading Cairns’ rise up the ladder. Forde used pre-season predictions the Taipans would finish last to spur his team to third on the ladder.

Maor could consider himself a little stiff, given the Breakers had spent the best part of two Covid-affected seasons in the doldrums, playing home games in Australia, before he took the reins, revamped the roster and led the Breakers into the semi finals.

Cairns dominated the other awards on a banner night for the club, star big man Keanu Pinder taking home back-to-back Most Improved Player gongs, teammate Sam Waardenburg claiming the Next Generation Award and club boss Mark Beecroft named the league’s Executive of the Year.

Pinder made history as the only player to win the award twice.

Breakers’ bench spark plug Barry Brown Jr was the obvious Best Sixth Man, netting more than half the votes after his instant offence put him in the top five scorers in the league.

Brown Jr paid tribute to his teammates and how they’d jelled together off the court, which helped him impact the game off the bench.

“Got to credit coach Mody (Maor) and those guys for getting us all together,” Brown said.

“We came in together and … we put our egos to the side … for the betterment of the team.”

Departing Adelaide 36er Kai Sotto enjoyed a flood of support from his Filipino compatriots, claiming a second consecutive Fans MVP.

Andrew Gaze Trophy for Most Valuable Player

Xavier Cooks (Sydney) – 120 votes

Bryce Cotton (Perth) – 96 votes

Mitch Creek (South East Melbourne) – 80 votes

Most Improved Player

Keanu Pinder (Cairns) – 48 votes

Will McDowell-White (New Zealand) – 46 votes

Sean Macdonald (Tasmania) – 34 votes

Damian Martin Trophy for the Best Defensive Player

Antonius Cleveland (Adelaide) – 37 votes

Dererk Pardon (New Zealand) – 34 votes

Shea Ili (Melbourne) – 26 votes

Best Sixth Man

Barry Brown Jr (New Zealand) – 73 votes

Tyler Johnson (Brisbane) – 41 votes

Rashard Kelly (Tasmania) – 26 votes

Lindsay Gaze Trophy for Coach of the Year

Adam Forde (Cairns) – 64 votes

Mody Maor (New Zealand) – 52 votes

Chase Buford (Sydney) – 34 votes

Next Generation Award

Sam Waardenburg (Cairns) – 47 votes

Sam Froling (Illawarra) – 45 votes

Luke Travers (Perth) – 24 votes

All-NBL First Team

Xavier Cooks (Sydney) – 54 votes

Mitch Creek (South East Melbourne) – 45 votes

Bryce Cotton (Perth) – 54 votes

Milton Doyle (Tasmania) – 42 votes

Derrick Walton Jr (Sydney) – 41 votes

All-NBL Second Team

Keanu Pinder (Cairns) – 33 votes

Dererk Pardon (New Zealand) – 22 votes

Barry Brown Jr (New Zealand) – 37 votes

DJ Hogg (Cairns) – 30 votes

Chris Goulding (Melbourne) – 23 votes

Executive of the Year

Mark Beecroft (Cairns)

Fans’ MVP

Kai Sotto (Adelaide)

Gametime by Kmart Award

Reuben Te Rangi (South East Melbourne)

Referee of the Year

Vaughan Mayberry

Originally published as Xavier Cooks wins the Andrew Gaze Trophy as the NBL’s MVP

Read related topics:Sydney

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