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Caleb McConnell wins Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year



Feb 26, 2023; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions guard Jalen Pickett (22) dribbles the ball as Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Caleb McConnell (22) defends during the first half at Bryce Jordan Center. Rutgers defeated Penn State 59-56. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, it was announced that Rutgers basketball’s Caleb McConnell won the Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year Award. The award is given annually to the top defensive player in Division I college basketball. It’s named in honor of the legendary former coach. Driesell won 786 games in 41 years at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison, and Georgia State.

The Award is voted on by a 10-member voting committee. It consists of current and former head coaches, as well as two senior staff members of

“There were a lot of excellent defenders in college basketball this season, but Caleb McConnell was a cut above the rest,” said Angela Lento, Vice President of “His ability to guard all five spots on the floor was second to none. It was never a very pleasurable experience, for the top scorer on the other team, when Caleb McConnell was on the floor. His ability to defend will find him a home in the NBA.”

McConnell becomes the first Rutgers player to win a national defensive player of the year award twice in one season. In addition to winning the 2023 Lefty Driesell Award, McConnell was named the 2022-23 ESPN College Gameday National Defensive Player of the Year Award earlier this month. He also won his second consecutive Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award this season along with Northwestern’s Chase Audige

He remains a top four finalist for the 2022-23 Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Per the Rutgers press release:

McConnell missed the first five games of the season with a knee injury but returned right back to form averaging 9.1 points. 5.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists-per-game. McConnell is averaged 2.5 steals-per-game with 71 steals, good for second in the conference. His 2.56 steals-per-game are good for sixth in the nation and first in the Big Ten Conference.

McConnell was the anchor of the top defensive team in the Big Ten and the seventh best in the nation, as Rutgers has allowed 60.4 points-per-game. The 2022-23 Rutgers defense was the best in the shot-clock era and the best at RU since 1981. McConnell guards each team’s top scorer and held them to some of their lowest scoring outputs of the season.

McConnell finished his career first all-time on the Rutgers steals list (221) after tracking down the great Eddie Jordan’s 220 career steals with two steals in his final game at RU.

McConnell’s defense obviously became his strength and calling card at Rutgers. However, his overall contributions to the program will be appreciated forever. He’ll be fondly remembered along with Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr., Myles Johnson and others for being the core players who turned the program around under head coach Steve Pikiell.

Rutgers’ Caleb McConnell will play in the NABC/Reese’s Division I College All-Star Game on Friday, March 31 at 4:30 p.m. ET. It’s being played at NRG Stadium in Houston. It is part of Reese’s Final Four Friday. The game will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.

In a classy and sentimental move by Rutgers basketball, McConnell found out he won the award via a zoom call with his family. It was a touching moment capping a tremendous college career. You can watch it all here.

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  1. thevinman

    March 30, 2023 at 4:11 pm

    Congratulations to Caleb!! A well deserved honor. We will miss his shutdown defensive abilities next seasons. Best of luck on the next stage to Caleb on the rest of his career, which will hopefully lands him in the NBA.

  2. BataliBoli98

    March 31, 2023 at 1:48 am

    That’s really great. During a time when it seems like 1/2 of the sport is in the transfer portal, it is very cool that Caleb’s loyalty to his teammates, coaches, and university paid off with this award. It will be a long, long time until we see as versatile a defender as Caleb McConnell. Congratulations and Go RU!

    • Henry Rutgers

      March 31, 2023 at 1:25 pm

      Nicely said. I have but to add, “ditto”.

  3. Biochemist01

    April 1, 2023 at 3:53 am

    Congratulations Caleb! You have been a rock for the program and have developed into an elite defender that we all enjoyed watching and rooting for. Thank you for your dedication and commitment to the program. You helped to make history. Best of luck to you as you move your career forward.

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