Basketball: Jackson and Lemanis voted season's best

By Kris Shannon

Cedric Jackson collected the MVP award after an outstanding season for the Breakers.  Photo / Sarah Ivey
Cedric Jackson collected the MVP award after an outstanding season for the Breakers. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The Breakers will tip off the playoffs against Sydney on Thursday night with the most valuable player running the offence and the coach of the year calling the plays.

Cedric Jackson, the MVP-in-waiting for much of the Australian NBL season, was last night confirmed as the league's best player, while Andrej Lemanis was honoured for leading the Breakers to a third straight minor premiership.

The double prize will put a spring in the step of the two-time defending champions when they begin the post-season against the Kings at Vector Arena. Game two is set for Easter Monday in Sydney while game three, if needed, will be back at the downtown Auckland venue next Wednesday.

Jackson finished fourth in MVP voting last season when many felt he deserved the accolade, but this year he has lifted his game to dizzying heights. The 27-year-old, who has had stints in the NBA and will fancy his chances of returning to the US next season, established himself as the premier guard in the competition and one of the league's best ever imports.

In the regular season, the American led the league in assists (7.2 per game) and steals (2.8) as well as finishing in the top 10 in scoring (15.6). He won four player of the week awards, two player of the month prizes and was the decisive force in several of his side's victories.

Jackson also recorded the Breakers' first triple-double (28 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) while matching up against Melbourne's former NBA top-10 draft pick Jonny Flynn in November.

Lemanis, meanwhile, was an obvious choice to win his second coach of the year award after guiding the Breakers to their best record (22-4) and running up a 16-game win streak. His success at the franchise over the last three years may make this his last season on the North Shore as he is among the favourites to fill the vacant head coaching role at the Australian national team.

Even after taking the two main trophies, the Breakers may feel aggrieved by having just Jackson named to the ANBL first team and only Mika Vukona (second team) and Tom Abercrombie (third team) recognised in the league's selection squads.

Despite the Breakers' all-conquering ways, joining Jackson in the first team were Kevin Lisch and Matt Knight from Perth as well as Ben Madgen of Sydney and Seth Scott of Melbourne, players whose sides finished with losing records.

Vukona could have easily earned an elevation to that team, while the absence of Alex Pledger from any of the squads is surprising. The seven-footer has flourished after being promoted to the team's starting centre role and he won consecutive player of the week awards this month.

The most improved player prize went to Madgen, while Perth's Damian Martin pipped Jackson and Vukona to be named the best defensive player. Wollongong's Adris Deleon denied Dillon Boucher the chance to cap his final season with the sixth man award, for which Will Hudson was also nominated.

- APNZ

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