NEW YORK – Succeed and proceed. From NCAA All-American to NBA Rookie of the Year, former University of Kentucky men’s basketball player Karl-Anthony Towns has become another beacon of head coach John Calipari’s players-first program.
Towns was honored as the league’s best rookie on Monday, becoming the first former Wildcat to earn the distinction. Towns is the fifth-ever and the first unanimous Rookie of the Year since Damian Lillard in 2013. He is the third player coached by Calipari to win the honor, joining former Memphis players Tyreke Evans (2010) and Derrick Rose (2009).
“For me, I think the hurdles and the trials and tribulations that come with being the No. 1 pick and everything were mellowed due to the fact that I went to the University of Kentucky,” Towns said at his Rookie of the Year press conference Monday. “It was just so much pressure being that team, the pursuit of perfection and everything that went with it – just didn’t have the same comparison playing every single day in the NBA. I’ve got to thank the University of Kentucky every single day for making me feel at ease every single day just knowing that whatever pressure came to me I was easily able to deal with just due to the fact I was there.”
Devin Booker, the 13th overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft, finished fourth in NBA Rookie of the Year voting. He averaged 13.8 points and 2.6 assists per game for the Phoenix Suns.
Towns, a Piscataway, N.J., native, is the first NBA rookie to average 18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game since Elton Brand in 1999-00. He finished his rookie season averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 blocks per game en route to sweeping the NBA Rookie of the Month award for the Western Conference, the first player to achieve the feat since Lillard in 2012-13. He is the just the eighth player in the history of the league to win the award in all six months of his rookie season, joining the likes of Lebron James, Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
“There’s not a nicer person off the court, yet more competitive on it,” Calipari said. “Proud of Karl. The future is bright. Keep working harder.”
Towns was one of just six players to play in all 82 games this season and capped his first NBA season ranked eighth in the league in rebounding (10.5), eighth in field-goal percentage (.542), 10th in blocks (1.68), 26th in scoring (18.3) and third in double-doubles (51). His 51 double-doubles in the regular season were 30 more than any other rookie.
Towns’ sensational season also included setting franchise records for a rookie in total points (1,503), total rebounds (857), blocks (138) and double-doubles (51).
Towns is the second player in Minnesota’s history to win the Rookie of the Year award. He and teammate Andrew Wiggins (2015) are the first players to win the award on the same team in back-to-back seasons since Bob McAdoo (1973) and Ernie DiGregorio (1974) of the Buffalo Braves.
He closed out his rookie season becoming the third rookie in the last 20 years to post three consecutive months averaging 20 or more points and 10 or more rebounds. He joins Duncan and Blake Griffin in achieving the feat.
On April 3 vs. Dallas, Towns became the first rookie since Elgin Baylor in 1959 to collect at least 21 rebounds and nine assists in the same game when he logged 21 rebounds, nine assists and 11 points in a win over the Mavericks. The 21 rebounds tied Gorgui Dieng’s club record for a rookie, while the 18 defensive boards is a new team high.
A consensus second-team All-America selection in 2015 in his only season at Kentucky, Towns helped lead UK on a historic run, becoming the first team to win 38 consecutive games in NCAA history. He was the Southeastern Conference’s Freshman of the Year after averaging 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He went on to become UK’s third No. 1 overall draft pick in the last five seasons when he was picked first by the Timberwolves in June.
“Coach Calipari runs his program the best in the country, and he runs it like a professional team,” Towns said Monday. “For us, being able to be there for such a great year also, where all the pressure was on us, it felt like one of those years where it, again, was one of those special years at Kentucky. It prepared me very well for the pressure that was to come with being an NBA player. It prepared me for personal life as being an NBA player. But it also prepared me as a job for being able to work hard every day, trying to learn something new. It gave me so many more tools other than just basketball that comes with being an NBA player, and that’s just a testament to the program that Coach Calipari and the coaching staff at the University of Kentucky run.”
Additional awards for the NBA season will be announced at a later date including All-NBA and All-NBA Rookie team selections.