By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette — Niagara men's basketball players Juan'ya Green and Antoine Mason and women's basketball player Lauren Gatto have been selected to the all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference teams revealed Monday.
The three players are now finalists for the MAAC Player of the Year awards to be announced at Thursday's awards banquet in Springfield, Mass., site of the MAAC championships.
If Green or Mason win the award, they would become the first sophomore honored as MAAC Player of the Year since LaSalle's Lionel Simmons began his run of three-straight awards in 1988. The last non-senior to win the award was Manhattan's Luis Flores in 2003.
Niagara has had three players win Player of the Year before: Alvin Young (1999), Demond Stewart (2001), and Juan Mendez (2005).
Green, Iona senior Lamont Jones and Canisius junior Billy Baron are considered the favorites to win this year's award.
The other first-team all-MAAC selections were Loyola teammates Erik Etherly (the preseason player of the year) and Dylan Cormier.
Green, last year's MAAC Rookie of the Year, averaged 17.7 points, a league-high 5.2 assists and 2.0 steals in 18 conference games for the regular season champion Purple Eagles. He hit game-winning shots in wins over Iona, Marist and Manhattan and assisted on the winning shot at Canisius.
"He makes his team win," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "If he has to make a shot, he does. If he has to make a pass, he does. He put his team in first place."
Jones is the MAAC's leading scorer at 22.3 points per game. He averaged 3.1 assists in league play. Baron averaged 16.1 points and 4.9 assists in MAAC games. Canisius and Iona tied for fourth in the conference standings.
Mason was the MAAC's third-leading scorer at 18 points per game, but his Player of the Year candidacy is hurt by the fact that he missed four games with an ankle injury, along with the widely-held perception that Green is Niagara's most valuable player.
This is the first time Niagara has had two players on the all-MAAC team since 2009, when Tyrone Lewis and Bilal Benn were both selected.
Freshman forward T.J. Cline was selected to the all-rookie team and is now eligible to win the Rookie of the Year award. Cline won three MAAC rookie of the week awards, tying Manhattan's RaShawn Stores for the league-high. He has the highest scoring average (7.7) among players on the all-rooke team, which also includes Manhattan's Shane Richards and Fairfield teammates Marcus Gilbert and Madou Sidibe.
Niagara's Joe Mihalich is one of the Coach of the Year favorites for leading the youngest playing rotation in the league to an outright regular season championship after being picked to finish fifth in the preseason coaches poll. Mihalich has not won Coach of the Year since 2005. He also won the award in 1999.
Gatto, a junior center, was fourth in the MAAC in scoring at 14.4 points per game and field goal shooting (48.8 percent). Her 6.3 rebounds per game ranked 10th.
The rest of the all-MAAC team consists of Damika Martinez from Iona, Lily Grenci from Siena, MyNesha McKenzie from Rider, and Ashley Durham from Canisius.
Niagara's Kayla Stroman, the preseason player of the year, was not selected to any of the three all-MAAC teams.
The Niagara women begin MAAC tournament at 3:30 p.m. Friday when they face Rider in the quarterfinals.
The Niagara men will play the winner of Friday night's Marist-Siena prequarterfinal at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.