Bogdan Bliznyuk has joined the short list -- with the likes of Alvin Snow, Rodney Stuckey and Jacob Wiley.
The Eastern Washington University men's basketball senior was honored Monday (March 5) as the Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player, and was also one of three unanimous first-team all-league selections in the voting by the league's head coaches. In addition, Eagle sophomore Mason Peatling earned honorable mention All-BSC accolades.
Bliznyuk is the second-straight Eastern player to win the honor, with Wiley earning it a year ago after a record-breaking senior season. Previously, Stuckey won in 2006 and Alvin Snow was the initial Eagle honored in 2004. Eastern has been a member of the league for 31 years now.
"I think we have the best player in the league, and with a player like that you have a chance to win," said first-year Eagle head coach Shantay Legans. "He's the best player in the league hands down. He does everything for us and – scoring, rebounds and assists. He just does so much."
This season, Bliznyuk has made 51.3 percent of his field goals (13th in the Big Sky) and 91.4 percent of his free throws (first in the Big Sky, sixth in NCAA Division I) to average 20.4 points (third, 41st nationally) through 31 games. He is also averaging 6.9 rebounds (sixth) and 4.1 assists (second) to rank as the only player in the league to be in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and assists.
In league games only, Bliznyuk averaged 22.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists. Legans also watched in awe as Bliznyuk broke the NCAA Division I single season record for consecutive free throws by making 74-straight during conference play. Bliznyuk owns a dozen school records, and has already helped lead the Eagles to a trio of national postseason tournaments – with EWU's quest for a fourth starting this week.
"He's a quiet leader who leads by example, and he's just mentally tough," said Legans, of the native of Lutsk, Ukraine, who graduated in 2014 from Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Wash. "He thinks the game, so he's like a coach out there. I don't think anything ever fazes him. I've only seen him rattled a couple of times in his career, and that had to do with us not executing as a team and not because he was missing shots or something else individually. Everything about him is even-keeled, and it's been fun to coach him."
Peatling has had five double-doubles in the conference season, with EWU winning four of those games. For the season, Peatling has averaged 7.6 points in 27 games (22 as a starter), and has averaged 5.7 rebounds (17th in the Big Sky) and 1.2 blocked shots per game (fifth). His averages are 8.7 points, 7.4 rebounds (seventh) and 1.5 blocks (fourth) in conference play.
During Eastern's current six-game winning streak, Peatling averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds. In a win over Northern Colorado on Jan. 27 he had 17 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, making 6-of-11 shots from the field and finishing with two blocked shots.
"Mason had a monster conference season," said Legans. "He's a big reason we won 13 league games, and our win against Northern Colorado was a key in helping us finish third. He kicked everybody's butt on the boards that day -- he tried to outrebound them by himself."
Bliznyuk now has 2,060 career points in 134 career games, ranking him third in league history as just the fifth player in the 55-year history of the league to hit the 2,000-point mark. He is now 18 points away from Weber State's Jeremy Senglin with 2,078 from 2013-17 and 42 from the record of 2,102 set by Orlando Lightfoot from Idaho in three seasons from 1991-94. Last Thursday in a 32-point effort versus Southern Utah, he passed current Utah head coach Larry Krystokowiak from Montana with 2,017 points from 1982-85 and Bruce Collins from Weber State with 2,019 from 1976-80.
Bliznyuk has two performances in his 133-game career of at least 40 points, 11 with at least 30, 41 with at least 20 and 96 scoring in double figures, including the school record scoring total of 45 set as a junior. He's had 10 or more rebounds 20 times and double figures in assists on three occasions, with 21 total double-doubles (17-4 record). He also ranks tied for seventh in school history with 40 points at Sacramento State on Feb. 1 when he sank 15-of-18 shots. Plus, he had the lone triple-double in school history as a sophomore. On nine occasions an Eastern player has flirted with a triple-double (within a combined total of three rebounds and/or assists), including four by Bliznyuk, three by Drew Brandon and one each by Rodney Stuckey and Justin Crosgile.
With this week's honor yet to be announced, Bliznyuk was honored four times by the league this season as Ready Nutrition Player of the Week, and a total of six times in his career. That's one more than former Eagle legends Tyler Harvey and Venky Jois won in their careers, and one shy of the EWU record of seven set by Stuckey, a 10-year NBA standout. Stuckey won four times in the 2005-06 season to now share the record with Bliznyuk.