Wellington Saints import Xavier Cooks has won the Stuff Most Valuable Player award for the 2022 season, leading his team to an improbable Final 6 berth after a 3-7 start to the season.
The 26-year-old Australian posted averages of 21.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game on 59.9% shooting from the field and 45.8% from three in 13 appearances.
Cooks recorded seven double-doubles and one triple-double during his 2022 campaign, and he was also named Most Outstanding Forward (Commissioners Cup) and earned selection in the All-Star Five along with Chris Johnson (Tuatara), Jarrod West (Giants), Anthony Hilliard (Airs) and Javonte Douglas (Airs).
Nelson Giants guard Jarrod West claimed the Defensive Player of the Year award. The American led his squad defensively on a nightly basis and swiped a league-best 2.9 steals per game. Outside of his ball hawking ability, West would often keep his opposing number in check regardless of who they were.
The former University of Louisville star was also named the Most Outstanding Guard (Keith Carr trophy) and was the assist champion with 7.1 dimes per game.
After being right in the hunt last season, 17-year-old Dontae Russo-Nance won Youth Player of the Year following a stellar campaign. He averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.8 steals per game on 43.2% shooting for the Auckland Tuatara.
Russo-Nance turned heads all season long with his feel for the game and ability beyond his years. He was a key cog for the Tuatara and will be crucial in their Final 6 aspirations this season. Still at St Kentigern’s College in Auckland, Russo-Nance is oozing potential and winning this award is yet another accolade that attests to that.
Giants captain Sam Dempster is the Most Improved Player for 2022, turning in a remarkable season at the age of 32. The veteran forward averaged 12.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game with a 41.9% clip from downtown.
Dempster averaged 7.3 points per game in 2021 and shot 36.7% from three. The leap he made this year was a big factor in the Giants’ success and why they finished second on the table. Dempster’s dead-eye shooting will become even more crucial in the Final 6 where it’s win or go home.
There was more success for the Giants on the sidelines, as Mike Fitchett was named Coach of the Year and the Giants named Club of the Year, in a season where they sold out all nine of their home games.
The awards panel consisted of the 10 Sal’s NBL head coaches and five independents – Huw Beynon, Justin Nelson, Casey Frank, Phill Jones and Jake Fitzgibbon.
Full List of Award Winners
Stuff MVP - Xavier Cooks (Saints)
Defensive Player of the Year - Jarrod West (Giants)
Youth Player of the Year - Dontae Russo-Nance (Tuatara)
Most Improved Player - Sam Dempster (Giants)
All Star Five - Jarrod West (Giants), Anthony Hilliard (Airs), Javonte Douglas (Airs), Xavier Cooks (Saints), Chris Johnson (Tuatara)
Coach of the Year - Mike Fitchett (Giants)
Most Outstanding Guard (Keith Carr Trophy) - Jarrod West
Most Outstanding NZ Guard (John Macdonald Trophy) - Corey Webster
Most Outstanding Forward (Commissioners Cup) - Xavier Cooks
Most Outstanding NZ Forward/Centre (Stan Hill Trophy) - Rob Loe
Scoring Champion (Alan Bland Memorial Trophy) - Anthony Hilliard
Rebounding Champion (Garry Pettis Memorial Trophy) - John Bohannon
Assist Champion (Dave Taylor Trophy) - Jarrod West
Best Team Free Throws (Nial Forsyth Trophy) - Nelson Giants
Team GM of the Year - Mitchell Langton
Club of the Year - Nelson Giants
Best Game Presentation - Wellington Saints
Best Fan Engagement - Canterbury Rams
Best Social Media - Franklin Bulls
Referee of the Year - Melony O'Connor