The box of Swedish chocolates still sits under Amanda Zahui B.’s bed, where it has stayed untouched throughout the basketball season. The Gophers center said Monday that she won’t crack it open until the last game has been played, resisting the temptation to give herself a sweet reward for being named Big Ten player of the year by the media.
Though Zahui joked there is “a lot of tape around that box,’’ coach Marlene Stollings said it symbolizes the dedication and willpower that made the sophomore the fourth player in Gophers history to earn the league’s highest individual honor.
Last summer, Zahui lost 30 pounds and committed herself to raising her game. That laid the foundation for a season that was recognized with several awards Monday, on a day when senior Shae Kelley and freshman Carlie Wagner also received league honors.
Zahui was the only unanimous selection to the all-Big Ten first team by both coaches and media. Kelley, a forward, was named to the all-Big Ten first team by media and was a second-team choice by league coaches. Wagner, a guard, made the all-freshman team, and Zahui also earned a spot on the Big Ten all-defensive team for the second consecutive season.
“I’m so proud of Amanda,’’ Stollings said. “She dedicated herself to improving her skills and transforming her body.
“We talk a lot about, ‘Do you want to be good, or do you want to be great?’ She was determined to be great, and she knows there are no shortcuts. She’s a true testament to the fact that hard work pays off.’’
The league’s freshman of the year last season, Zahui leads the Big Ten in rebounding (12.7 per game) and blocked shots (4.0) and is fourth in scoring (18.5 points per game). She set a conference record with 29 rebounds in a Feb. 17 victory over Iowa, a game in which she also scored a career-high 39 points. Her 120 blocked shots and 273 defensive rebounds this season are school records.
Zahui is the first Gopher in 13 years to be named Big Ten player of the year, joining Lindsay Whalen (2002), Carol Ann Shudlick (1994) and Laura Coenen (1983). Whalen and Coenen also were sophomores when they won the honor.
“When I found out, it was like a ‘wow’ moment,’’ Zahui said. “I’m still trying to get my head around it. I was really speechless.
“It was a long summer for all of us, with a lot of hard work. I feel like this is an award for our whole team.’’
The Big Ten’s coaches chose Ohio State freshman point guard Kelsey Mitchell as player of the year. Mitchell leads the league in scoring with 24.5 points per game.
Kelley joined the Gophers for her final season of eligibility after graduating from Old Dominion, where she made the all-Conference USA first team last season. She is averaging 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds and has been instrumental to the Gophers’ resurgence in Stollings’ first season.
Wagner, a New Richland native, has started 25 of 30 games and is averaging 11.9 points per game. Her 55 three-pointers are second-most on the team.
Junior point guard Shayne Mullaney also was honored Monday as the Gophers’ recipient of the Big Ten sportsmanship award.