Greensboro, N.C. — Guilford College senior Ben Strong (Chapel Hill, N.C./Chapel Hill) received his second straight Kurt Axe Memorial Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Men’s Basketball Player of the Year Award Thursday night at the league’s tournament banquet in Salem, Virginia. The league’s 10 head coaches nominated and selected two six-member all-star teams and the special award winners.
Strong is first student to earn the ODAC’s top honor in consecutive years since 1987-88 and the Quakers’ initial three-time First Team All-ODAC men’s basketball pick. Teammates Eric Belkoski (Rockingham, N.C./Richmond Senior) and Caleb Kimbrough (Carrboro, N.C./Chapel Hill) received honorable mention all-league laurels.
Strong, a 6-11, 220-pound center, has been integral to the Quakers’ two consecutive 20-win seasons. He won a school-record five ODAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Week awards this season, which gives him 13 weekly honors in his career. Strong leads the ODAC and ranks fourth in NCAA Division III with 25.7 points per game. He also tops the conference and stands 15th nationally with 10.8 rebounds per contest. His league-leading 2.28 blocks per game rates 16th in the land. Strong also ranks sixth in the league with a .573 field-goal percentage and 12th in free-throw percentage (.760). He has a career-high 18 double-doubles this year and has led Guilford’s scorers in 23 of 25 games. Strong has 20 20-point games this year, including eight 30-point contests. He averaged 25.9 points and 10.1 rebounds in 18 ODAC contests.
Strong is one of 10 finalists for this year’s prestigious Jostens Trophy, given to Division III’s most outstanding men’s and women’s basketball players. This year he broke his own Guilford Division III season scoring mark with 643 points and surpassed the likes of former NBA stars M.L. Carr ’73 and World B. Free ’76 on the way to second place on the Quakers’ career scoring list with 2,137 points in 108 games. The reigning NCAA Division III Player of the Year has 884 career rebounds, which stands seventh in school history. After leading Guilford in blocks in each of his four years, Strong starts ODAC Tournament play in second place on the Quakers’ career blocks list with 229.
Belkoski, a 6-4 senior forward, is enjoying the finest of his four seasons and ranks third on the team in scoring (10.6 ppg.) and rebounding (4.9 rpg.). He stands among the league’s best in scoring (26th), rebounding (17th), and free-throw percentage (.763, 11th). Belkoski has scored in double figures 16 times with three double-doubles. The three-year starter matched his career best with a team-high 21 points in the Quakers’ regular-season finale, a 122-104 win over visiting Emory & Henry College.
Kimbrough, the Quakers’ starting point guard for the past four years, earns his first postseason recognition after averaging 7.4 points and a team-high 3.92 assists per game. He stands fourth among ODAC assists leaders and second in free-throw percentage (.845). Kimbrough also ranks among the league’s best in steals (1.4 spg., 11th) and assist-to-turnover ratio (5th, 1.69). With 341 career assists, he ranks fourth among Guilford’s career leaders and also has 122 steals, seven thefts shy of third place all-time at Guilford. Also an All-ODAC performer for Guilford’s tennis team, Kimbrough captured Guilford’s Quaker Club Ideal Student-Athlete and Richard Joyce Sportsmanship Awards last year.
Coach Tom Palombo’s Quakers (21-4, 16-2 ODAC) are ranked 12th in this week’s D3hoops.com Top 25 Poll and riding a 13-game winning streak into the league tournament. Behind a school-record 16 ODAC wins, Guilford captured the tourney’s top seed for the first time and opens play Friday (2/29) versus eighth-seeded Eastern Mennonite University at 1:00 p.m. The winner meets the winner of the Washington and Lee University -Roanoke College quarterfinal game Saturday (3/1) at 6:00 p.m. The winner of Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. final in the Salem Civic Center earns the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament berth.