The year-end basketball awards happen and there was only one surprise. Lonzo Ball was MVP. TJ Leaf was the best freshman. Aaron Holiday earned most improved. But, the surprise was Thomas Welsh who won multiple awards.
Thomas Welsh captured the Bob "Ace" Calkins Memorial Award as the team's top free throw shooter. Welsh, a 7-foot junior from nearby Redondo Beach, Calif., made 42 of 47 free throws (89.4 percent). He made 44 consecutive free throws between the end of 2015-16 and the first half of the 2016-17 season, setting a school record previously set by Darren Collison in 2009 (Collison had made 43 straight free throws).
Welsh was also honored with the Irv Pohlmeyer Memorial Trophy, highlighting UCLA's top defensive player. Welsh has led UCLA in blocked shots each of the past three seasons (2015, 2016 and 2017), having registered 43 blocks in 32 games (1.3 bpg) during the 2016-17 season. He has now accumulated 114 career blocks, a total that ranks fifth on UCLA's career blocked shots list.
Welsh and Leaf were each honored with the Gerald A. Finerman Award, annually distributed to the team's top rebounders. Welsh averaged a team-leading 8.7 rebounds per game, the seventh-highest average in the Pac-12. Leaf grabbed a team-best 287 total rebounds (8.2 rpg) as a freshman, ranking ninth in the conference in rebounds per game.
While the awards are set up so as many people win as possible (obviously if that was not true Ball would be MVP and best Freshman), Welsh winning the top defensive player award drives home another point. UCLA needs him to come back. For in another article entitled The 15 Most Important NBA Draft Testing The Water Decisions the frightening part of next year was exposed. If Welsh and Holiday (currently without agents) enter the draft after the NBA combine (bold mine):
9. Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh, UCLA: As it stands, UCLA is losing their top seven players from last season’s team. They are bringing in a talented freshman class, but it’s hard to picture a team made up of just freshmen and G.G. Goloman competing with Arizona and USC atop the Pac-12. Throw Aaron Holiday, who was one of the most under-appreciated players in the country last season, and Welsh back into the mix, however, and suddenly there are some veteran leaders on the roster to provide Steve Alford with an anchor. Neither are projected as first round picks.
Thank you to all the players. Please offer your thoughts on the awards below.
But, most importantly, please come back Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh!