Never in the history of women’s basketball at Arizona since the program started in 1972-73 had a player won a national player of the year honor.
The Wildcats’ coach, Adia Barnes, was the Pac-12 Player of the Year in 1997-98, the highest individual honor achieved by an Arizona player until today.
Aari McDonald added to her accolades as the winner of the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award for the top shooting guard in the country, as announced by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
McDonald is the first player in school history to win one of the five Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame women’s positional awards.
She joins an elite club in the history of Arizona men’s and women’s hoops to earn a national player of the year distinction. Only eight men have that honor including the likes of Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott, Jason Terry, Jason Gardner, Mike Bibby, Deandre Ayton and Stanley Johnson. Full list of their honors is below.
Kerr, Elliott, Terry, Gardner and Bibby have their jersey numbers honored near the McKale Center rafters. They have earned that honor as well as Miles Simon (1997 FInal Four MVP).
In order to have a jersey number recognized, the university states an athlete must meet one of the following criteria:
— Be inducted into the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame as an individual.
— Earn a national player of the year award
— Earn a major national “athlete of the year” honor
— Named Most Outstanding Player at an NCAA Division I championship
Terry is the only one of the five men’s players honored that has yet to be inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame.
The only women’s player to have her number recognized is the late, great Shawntinice Polk, who was given an exemption in 2006 to the requirements because she passed away a year earlier while she was an active player. She ultimately was inducted into the Arizona Hall of Fame in 2011.
Chances are McDonald will qualify not only for her national player of the year honor this season but also her likely induction into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in the future, especially if she has the All-American type of season expected of her in 2020-21.
The Intercollegiate Athletics Department Heritage Committee makes the ultimate decision. That committee is comprised of athletic administrators and former athletes.
McDonald, of Fresno, Calif, was also the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and was named All-Pac-12 after leading the conference in scoring (20.6 points a game) and steals per game (2.3). She is the only player in conference history to lead the Pac-12 in scoring and steals twice.
She finished the season 10th in the country in scoring and has scored in double-figures in 66 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation which is also her entire Arizona career. She helped lead Arizona to 24 wins this season, which is tied for the second-most wins in school history while also leading the Wildcats to a fourth-place finish in the Pac-12, Arizona’s best finish since 2011.
McDonald’s Honors & Awards
Ann Meyers Drysdale Award Winner
Associated Press second-team All-American
USBWA second-team All-American
Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year
Wade Trophy Finalist
Honda Award Finalist
Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Finalist
Naismith Player of the Year Semifinalist
Wooden Award All-American & Wooden Award Trophy candidate
Naismith Player of the Week (Feb. 4)
USBWA Player of the Week (Nov. 19)
ESPNw Player of the Week (Nov. 18)
Pac-12 Player of the Week (Feb. 3)
Pac-12 Player of the Week (Nov. 18)
Arizona men’s basketball national player of the year honors:
National Player of the Year
1987-88 Steve Kerr (USBWA Most Courageous Athlete)
1988-89 Sean Elliott (Wooden Award, AP, Kodak/NABC,Chevrolet/CBS-TV, Basketball Times, Basketball Weekly, Lapchick Trophy/Hall of Fame, Hoop Scoop, All-Star Sports Report)
1998-99 Jason Terry (Sports Illustrated,CBS/Chevrolet, Rawlings/Basketball Times)
2002-03 Jason Gardner (Frances Pomeroy Naismith/Basketball Hall of Fame)
National Freshman of the Year
1996-97 Mike Bibby (Basketball Weekly)
1999-2000 Jason Gardner (Basketball Times, USBWA, ESPN.com)
Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year
2017-18 Deandre Ayton
Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year
2014-15 Stanley Johnson
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.