KU junior Marcus Garrett named Naismith Defensive Player of the Year

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) smiles after a big dunk from Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas junior Marcus Garrett on Wednesday backed up his status as the best defender in the Big 12 Conference by winning the national 2020 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

Garrett beat out Duke’s Tre Jones, Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans and Baylor’s Mark Vital to win this year’s title as the best defensive player in college basketball. The announcement was made just after 11 a.m. on a live stream of CBS HQ.

“It’s definitely huge,” Garrett said in an online interview after winning the award. “A lot of thanks to my teammates, Coach (Bill) Self, the coaching staff and Jayhawk Nation.”

In a news release shortly after the announcement, Garrett added: “These awards are won as a team, not individually. I’d also like to thank the Naismith Awards voters. We had a great season, as did the other finalists who were also worthy of this award. I hope and pray all are safe with the current happenings worldwide, and (that) we get back to normalcy soon. Rock Chalk.”

Garrett is the second Big 12 player in the three-year history of the award to bring home the trophy, joining West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, who won the honor in 2018.

Garrett ranked among the Big 12 leaders in steals per game (1.8) this season and also averaged 4.5 deflections per game, including 6.9 during KU’s last nine games.

Asked recently on The Jayhawker podcast if he had ever coached a better defender, Self said “I don’t know that I have.”

“Marcus has it all,” Self said. “Marcus has hands, he’s tough, he can slide, he’s got size, he’s got length, he anticipates. He’s got a lot of stuff to him that a lot of people don’t realize. I think Marcus Garrett’s emergence and the way he matured as a player gave us confidence.”

For the season, Garrett averaged 9.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while also leading the Big 12 in assists (4.7 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.7.

He was the 2020 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a USBWA All-District VI pick, all-Big 12 second and third team and a unanimous choice for the all-Big 12 Defensive Team for the second year in a row.

“I think he was the best on-ball defender, best off-ball defender in the country and could guard any 4 man,” Self told CBS.

Asked on camera how he was able to be all of those things while standing just 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, Garrett said it was a matter of mindset.

“I feel like I just try my hardest to make it hard on the offensive player,” Garrett said. “Try to stay in front of them; play solid, good defense; and make the offensive player take hard, contested shots.”

While former KU great Mario Chalmers often gets mention as the best defensive player to play for Self, the KU coach recently explained why Chalmers and Garrett were in different categories.

“Mario was the best at stealing the ball,” Self said on The Jayhawker. “Better than Marcus. He was by far the best. But we always put Mario on the other team’s worst player because we knew he couldn’t guard the best one and we knew he wouldn’t be disciplined enough to stay connected to him, so (we) put him on the worst so he could just run around and take everybody’s ball.”

That was never the case for Garrett, who almost exclusively guarded the opposing team’s best player, whether he was 6-foot-10 or a lightning-quick point guard.

“I remember somebody asking (KU freshman) Tristan (Enaruna), ‘What’s the scouting report on Marcus Garrett if you’re the other team,'” Self began. “He said, ‘Don’t ever dribble it when he’s guarding you.'”

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