Eastern Washington returned four starters from its 2020 Big Sky Conference championship team, a group widely expected to make a deep run this week at the conference tournament in Boise.
Tanner Groves wasn’t one of them.
The Shadle Park graduate made the most of his first season in the Eagles’ starting lineup, on Monday becoming the Cheney school’s fourth Big Sky Most Valuable Player in the past five seasons .
Groves, a 6-foot-9 junior with the ability to score inside and out, was EWU’s steadiest presence, averaging 17.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and shooting a conference-best 58.6% from the field.
EWU head coach Shantay Legans dubbed Groves the Big Sky’s’s second-best post player last season in a reserve role behind Mason Peatling, last season’s MVP.
Groves, the 2017 Greater Spokane League MVP, lived up to the billing.
“We saw him go against Peatling in practices and we saw the flashes of what he is capable of,” Legans said.
Groves, Peatling (2020), Bogdan Bliznyuk (2018) and Jake Wiley (2017) have all earned Big Sky MVP for the Eagles.
“(Groves is) playing really, really good basketball and is very confident,” Legans said.
“You love to see that, especially out of a player with so much character, how hard he plays, how much he loves his teammates and how much he gives his team every game.”
EWU wings Kim Aiken Jr. and Tyler Robertson were also honored.
Aiken was a first-team All-Big Sky selection and was named Big Sky defensive player of the year after averaging 12 points, a league-best 8.4 rebounds and adding 25 steals and 21 blocks.
Aiken, who was often locked onto the opposing team’s best player, was a second-team All-Big selection in 2020 and made the All-Big Sky Tournament team in 2019.
He earned back-to-back Big Sky player of the week honors last month.
Robertson, a sophomore from Australia, considered redshirting because of the Eagles’ load of experienced returners
Instead, the versatile Robertson led the Big Sky in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.94-plus with 47 assists and 16 turnovers), averaged 11.5 points and was named Big Sky reserve of the year.
The Eagles (13-7) earned a first-round tournament bye and begin the quarterfinals on Thursday at Idaho Central Arena when they face the winner of the game between No. 7 Portland State (9-12) and No. 10 Northern Arizona (5-15) at 4:30 p.m.
No. 1 seed and outright champion Southern Utah (19-3), No. 2 seed Eastern Washington and No. 3 seed Weber State (17-5) each finished with 12 conference wins.
Last-place and No. 11 seed Idaho (1-19) faces No. 6 seed Montana (13-12) on Wednesday at 2 p.m.
All-Big Sky Teams
MVP: Tanner Groves, forward, EWU.
Newcomer of the Year: Isiah Brown, guard, Weber State.
Freshman of the Year: Dillon Jones, Weber State.
Defensive Player of the Year: Kim Aiken Jr., EWU;
Top Reserve: Tyler Robertson, EWU.
First Team: Brown, Weber State; Groves, EWU; Tevian Jones, guard, Southern Utah; Aiken, guard/forward, EWU; Cameron Shelton, guard, Northern Arizona.
Second Team: Ethan Esposito, forward, Sacramento State; Maizen Fausett, forward, Southern Utah; John Knight III, guard, Southern Utah; Seikou Sisoho Jawara, guard, Weber State; Xavier Bishop, guard, Montana State.
Third Team: Amin Adamu, guard, Montana State; Bodie Hume, guard, Northern Colorado; Tarik Cool, guard, Idaho State; Jubrile Belo, forward, Montana State; Matt Johnson, guard, Northern Colorado;
Honorable Mention: James Scott, guard, Portland State; Kyle Owens, forward, Montana State; Brayden Parker, forward, Idaho State; Bryce Fowler, forward, Sacramento State; Dre Marin, guard, Southern Utah; Robert Ford III, guard Idaho State.
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