HUNTINGTON – All season long, Marshall junior post player Ajdin Penava wanted to show that he was a much tougher player in the post than last season.
It was a growth that Marshall’s team needed after graduating Ryan Taylor and losing Terrence Thompson in the post.
As it turned out, however, Penava proved to Conference USA that he was the toughest on the conference block – both figuratively and literally.
On Tuesday, Penava was named as the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and media.
“I’m honored to win this award,” Penava said by release. “This isn’t an individual award, but an award for the entire team. They make me a better player and they are the reason we are where we are.”
Penava becomes Marshall’s first Defensive Player of the Year winner since Hassan Whiteside won the award for Conference USA during his lone season with the team in 2009-10.
Whiteside has since gone on to make the NBA where he is one of the league’s top defensive forces – a note that was not lost on Penava upon learning of his accolades.
“It’s pretty cool to be named in the same sentence with Hassan Whiteside,” Penava said.
Penava leads the NCAA in blocks (124) and blocks per game (4.28) in the 2017-18 season, which Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni lauded him for.
“Anytime you lead the nation in anything, that means you’re pretty good at what you are doing,” D’Antoni said by release. “Ajdin has come a long way since he first stepped on campus. He not only makes me a better coach, but he makes the team better.”
Penava’s 124 blocks in a season are second all-time in Marshall history, trailing only Whiteside, who accrued 182 during that lone season in 2009-10.
According to a Marshall release, Penava graded out to a defensive rating of 91.8 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court, meaning the opposition is under one point per possession with him out there.
The 6-foot-9, native of Sarajevo, Bosnia/Herzegovina, is not just a defensive specialist, however.
Penava was named as a Third Team All-Conference USA selection on Monday after averaging 15.4 points and 8.6 rebounds a game to go with his 4.28 blocks per outing.
The 15.4 points rank him 11th in Conference USA and he leads Marshall in field goal percentage, connecting on 55.1 percent of his shots from the floor. The 8.6 rebounds per game are fourth in the league. He also has 194 defensive rebounds on the season, which is second in C-USA.
Penava was named Conference USA Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 18 after scoring a career-high 33 points and adding 15 rebounds with nine blocks and three steals in 26 minutes in a win over Ohio.