Former University of Kentucky star Karl-Anthony Towns was a unanimous winner of the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. He received all 130 first-place votes.
“This is a landmark of my career, but it’s not the last one,” Towns said after accepting the award on Monday in Minneapolis.
Towns, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, finished the season ranked eighth in the league in rebounding (10.5 per game), eighth in field goal percentage (54.2 percent), 11th in blocks (1.68), 26th in scoring (18.3) and third in double-doubles (51).
“This is not an award you win without your teammates and the organization,” Towns said. “I’m just happy that every day I get to wake up and be a Timberwolf.”
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He gave much of the credit for the award to his family, first to his sister who practiced with him when he was growing up. “I hope I made you proud. I hope that this award acts as a reminder of every day, all the work that we put in.”
Next, he thanked his dad. “I can honestly say I can look into my father’s eyes and know he’s proud of me.”
Then, he praised his mother, “the boss of the house. I can’t thank her enough for making my life so happy, so fun.”
Towns was the fifth player to win the award unanimously, following the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard in 2012-13, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin in 2010-11, the San Antonio Spurs’ David Robinson in 1989-90 and the Houston Rockets’ Ralph Sampson in 1983-84.
He won all six Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors. Towns, the surprise winner of the Skills Challenge during All-Star weekend, scored 18 points in the USA squad’s victory over the World team in the Rising Stars Challenge.
He also was named Western Conference Player of the Week on April 11.
“I think when you come into the league as the No. 1 pick there are big expectations. He exceeded all those expectations,” new Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He embodies all the characteristics that you look for in a winning player.”
Kia, which sponsors the rookie award, announced that Towns will donate the vehicle he won to the Minnesota Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on behalf of the man who selected him in the draft, Flip Saunders, who died before the season. “I play the game with a lot of love and passion. To lose a man like Flip was very hard.”
Towns was the first former UK player to win the award since its official inception for the 1952-53 season. The Rookie of the Year honor was selected by newspaper writers for the five seasons before that — including ex-Cat Alex Groza in 1949-50 — but the league does not officially recognize those players as past winners.
Towns was asked about how playing at Kentucky prepared him for the NBA.
“Coach (John) Calipari runs his program the best in the country, and he runs it like a professional team. … It was tremendously vital,” he said. “It gave me so many more tools other than just basketball that comes with being an NBA player.”
The New York Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis (363 points) was second in the rookie voting, followed by the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (59) and ex-Cat Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns (49).
Porzingis received 117 second-place votes, followed by Jokic with seven, and Booker and the Philadelphia 76ers’ Jahlil Okafor with three apiece.
Towns was the third player coached by Calipari to win Rookie of the Year, joining former Memphis players Tyreke Evans (2010) and Derrick Rose (2009).
NBA Rookie of the Year Voting
Selected by a panel of 130 sportswriters and broadcasters, players were awarded five points for a first-place vote, three points for a second-place vote and one point for a third-place vote:
Karl-Anthony Towns, Min
Kristaps Porzingis, NY
Nikola Jokic, Den
Devin Booker, Pho
Jahlil Okafor, Phi
Justise Winslow, Mia
Emmanuel Mudiay, Den
Myles Turner, Ind
D’Angelo Russell, LAL
NBA Rookies of the Year
2016: u-Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota
2015: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota
2014: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia
2013: u-Damian Lillard, Portland
2012: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland
2011: u-Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers
2010: Tyreke Evans, Sacramento
2009: Derrick Rose, Chicago
2008: Kevin Durant, Seattle
2007: Brandon Roy, Portland
2006: Chris Paul, New Orleans
2005: Emeka Okafor, Charlotte
2004: LeBron James, Cleveland
2003: Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix
2002: Pau Gasol, Memphis
2001: Mike Miller, Orlando
2000: Elton Brand, Chicago, and Steve Francis, Houston
1999: Vince Carter, Toronto
1998: Tim Duncan, San Antonio
1997: Allen Iverson, Philadelphia
1996: Damon Stoudamire, Toronto
1995: Grant Hill, Detroit, and Jason Kidd, Dallas
1994: Chris Webber, Golden State
1993: Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando
1992: Larry Johnson, Charlotte
1991: Derrick Coleman, New Jersey
1990: u-David Robinson, San Antonio
1989: Mitch Richmond, Golden State
1988: Mark Jackson, New York
1987: Chuck Person, Indiana
1986: Patrick Ewing, New York
1985: Michael Jordan, Chicago
1984: u-Ralph Sampson, Houston
1983: Terry Cummings, San Diego
1982: Buck Williams, New Jersey
1981: Darrell Griffith, Utah
1980: Larry Bird, Boston
1979: Phil Ford, Kansas City
1978: Walter Davis, Phoenix
1977: Adrian Dantley, Buffalo
1976: Alvan Adams, Phoenix
1975: Keith Wilkes, Golden State
1974: Ernie DiGregorio, Buffalo
1973: Bob McAdoo, Buffalo
1972: Sidney Wicks, Portland
1971: Dave Cowens, Boston, and Geoff Petrie, Portland
1970: Lew Alcindor, Milwaukee
1969: Wes Unseld, Baltimore
1968: Earl Monroe, Baltimore
1967: Dave Bing, Detroit
1966: Rick Barry, San Francisco
1965: Willis Reed, New York
1964: Jerry Lucas, Cincinnati
1963: Terry Dischinger, Chicago
1962: Walt Bellamy, Chicago
1961: Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati
1960: Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia
1959: Elgin Baylor, Minneapolis
1958: Woody Sauldsberry, Philadelphia
1957: Tom Heinsohn, Boston
1956: Maurice Stokes, Rochester
1955: Bob Pettit, Milwaukee
1954: Ray Felix, Baltimore
1953: Don Meineke, Fort Wayne