KU’s Kevin McCullar Jr. and Taiyanna Jackson named semifinalists for Naismith Award’s Defensive Player of the Year honor

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (15) goes up to stuff a shot from Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell (1) during the second half on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

The Kansas men’s and women’s basketball programs each landed a player on the semifinalist list for the Naismith Award’s defensive player of the year honor this week.

KU senior Kevin McCullar Jr. was named one of 10 semifinalists for the men’s award on Tuesday morning, one day after senior center Taiyanna Jackson landed on the same list on the women’s side.

It marks the second year in a row that McCullar was named a Naismith semifinalist for his defensive prowess.

McCullar currently ranks second in the Big 12 Conference — and 24th nationally — with an average of 2.1 steals per game. His 60 steals rank second in the conference and his seven double-doubles also rank second in the Big 12, behind teammate Jalen Wilson, who has nine.

McCullar’s strengths as a defender go beyond his numbers, though. KU coach Bill Self has marveled throughout the season about McCullar’s basketball IQ and feel for the game, and the KU coach said this week that

“The way he’s fit in and the way he’s basically made it so much easier for everybody on the defense end is (great),” Self said. “We’re ninth in the country in defensive efficiency, but we’d (have) no chance to even be close if it weren’t for Kev. There’s a big drop off when he’s not in the game, defensively. That’s a primary reason why he spends the majority of the time in the game.”

McCullar is looking to join former Jayhawk Marcus Garrett as a KU winner of the honor, which is now in its sixth season of existence.

Joining McCullar on the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award semifinalist list are Chase Audige (Northwestern), Moussa Cisse (Oklahoma State), Jaylen Clark (UCLA), Zach Edey (Purdue), Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana), Ryan Kalkbrenner (Creighton), Caleb McConnell (Rutgers), Marcus Sasser (Houston) and Zakai Zeigler (Tennessee).

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Jackson leads the Big 12 and ranks sixth in the country with 82 blocked shots, an average of 3 per game, while ranking third in the nation in field goal percentage (68.1%) and fifth in rebounds per game (12.6).

She recorded her league-leading 18th double-double on Sunday, with 12 points and a career-high-tying 21 rebounds in KU’s 66-57 victory over Oklahoma State. She also had five blocked shots against OSU, her fourth-straight game with four or more blocks.

The KU center is a two-time Big 12 Player of the Week honoree this season. Last year, she became the first KU player selected to the Big 12’s all-Defensive Team and she led the Jayhawks with a single-season school record with 5.7 blocks per game.

Earlier this season, Jackson was also listed as one of the Top 10 candidates for the 2023 Lisa Leslie Award, which recognizes the top center in women’s NCAA Division I college basketball.

She is joined on the Naismith semifinalist list by Brea Beal (South Carolina), Aliyah Boston (South Carolina), Cameron Brink (Stanford), Brooke Flowers (St. Louis), Elizabeth Kitley (Virginia Tech), Rayah Marshall (USC), Aneesah Morrow (DePaul), Angel Reese (LSU) and Celeste Taylor (Duke).

photo by: Photo courtesy of Angilo Allen/Kansas Athletics

Kansas center Taiyanna Jackson blocks a shot in the Jayhawks’ game against Tulsa on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022 at Allen Fieldhouse.


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