Paul, Weinstein Receive Top Honor at Scholar-Athlete Reception
April 29, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -Basketball star Brandon Paul (Gurnee, Ill.) and All-American gymnast Alina Weinstein (Plainsboro, N.J.) garnered the prestigious Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor Monday night at the Fighting Illini Scholar-Athlete Awards Reception, held at the Colonnades Club at Memorial Stadium. The Scholar-Athlete Reception is an annual event that recognizes graduating student-athletes and others who have excelled both athletically and academically.
The Medal of Honor is awarded annually at each conference school to a male and female senior student-athlete who demonstrates proficiency in scholarship and athletics. The award was first endowed in 1914 and has become the top annual award the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics bestows. Paul and Weinstein were just two of more than 120 Fighting Illini student-athletes, managers and athletic trainers recognized at the 23rd annual event that honors the best and brightest that Illinois athletics has to offer.
Paul was a team captain and go-to player for coach John Groce and the Fighting Illini basketball team in 2012-13. He's a two-time All-Big Ten and All-Region honoree, and was a candidate for several national awards, including the Wooden, Naismith and Senior CLASS Awards as a senior. A native of Gurnee, Ill., Paul finished his career ranked in the top 10 in school history in several categories, including scoring (ninth, 1654 points), three-pointers (seventh, 211 3FGM), free throws (fourth, 401 FTM) and games played (third, 138). He was named MVP of the Maui Invitational in 2012 after leading the Illini to the title, and was a two-time national player of the week after incredible performances against No. 5 Ohio State in 2011-12 (43 points) and at No. 10 Gonzaga in 2012-13 (35 points).
Off the court, Paul is a three-time academic All-Big Ten honoree and is graduating in May with a degree in sport management. He has been a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), served as emcee and host of 2012 Jock Jams student-athlete fundraiser and regularly visits local schools and the pediatric ward at Urbana's Carle Foundation Hospital.
"Brandon Paul is an outstanding representative of the University of Illinois who embodies all the positive qualities of a well-rounded student-athlete," men's basketball coach John Groce said of Paul. "I learned quickly after taking this job that Brandon is an exceptional young man. He has been very involved in the community and has had a positive impact on this campus and the Champaign-Urbana area. I have received many emails and had people in the community come up to tell me about an interaction their sons or daughters have had with Brandon and how special he made them feel as fans. You couldn't ask for a better ambassador for this university or our athletic programs."
Weinstein ends her four-year Illinois career as one of the most decorated gymnasts in school history. The list of accomplishments is staggering: 2013 Honda Award, which honors the nation's top gymnast, 2013 south central region gymnast of the year, four-time All-American, five-time regional champion, two-time All-Big Ten, Illinois all-around school record-holder (39.625), school floor exercise record-holder (9.975), the list goes on and on. She also became the second Illinois gymnast ever to score a perfect 10.0 with a flawless routine on vault on March 16, 2013. On top of all that, she helped the Illini to two of their three trips to the NCAA Championships, leading the team to 11th-place finishes in both 2011 and 2013, the top two finishes in school history.
Outside the gym, Weinstein is an unquestioned leader, earning the Leadership Academy Leader of Merit distinction at tonight's reception for exemplifying leadership skills and service in the community. She has been all over the community throughout her career, visiting elementary schools, participating in Special Spectators events, food drives, SAAC clothing drive, Jock Jams and much more, while also getting it done in the classroom as a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and staying on track to graduate this May.
"I cannot say enough about Alina in her senior season," women's gymnastics coach Kim Landrus said of Weinstein. "She truly has transformed over her collegiate career into the gymnast she is today. She is a true student-athlete whose heart and love for gymnastics resonates every day in the gym. Her leadership both in practices and competitions have shown our underclassmen what it takes to be one of the best in the country. Alina is not only a vocal leader but also a leader by example. She did everything to ensure that the team reached its goal of an NCAA Nationals berth (which was accomplished on April 6) while building off the success she had last season."
The Fighting Illini Spirit Awards, which are given to the male and female athletes who best exemplify the spirit, courage, effort and dedication of the Fighting Illini, also were handed out at the Colonnades Club. Senior offensive lineman Corey Lewis (Cresco, Pa.) won the male Spirit Award, marking the second-straight year a football player earned the spirit award (Nathan Scheelhaase won it last year), while senior soccer player Shayla Mutz (Homer Glen, Ill.) took home the female Spirit Award this year.
The Leadership Academy Awards were presented to athletes who exemplify leadership skills and service in the community. Kristin Morrison and Courtney Yaeger of track and field were awarded the Leader of Distinction honor, while Weinstein was given the Leader of Merit honor.
The men's cross country team and women's soccer team were recognized for having the top team GPAs among Illinois' 19 varsity sports and six individuals were honored for having the top GPA in their respective classes. Track & field's Thomas King (Winnetka, Ill.) and Chloe Schmidt (State College, Pa.) had the top GPAs among sophomores, gymnast Alex Varga (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) and volleyball player Anna Dorn (Munster, Ind.) were the top juniors, while tennis player Bruno Abdelnour (Aleppo, Syria) and track & field's Michelle Stratton (Naperville, Ill.) were honored as the top seniors.
A new award was introduced this year, as Illinois handed out the first-ever Postgraduate Scholarship Awards. Seniors Zach Becker of football and Keri Eberhardt of Swimming & Diving received $7,500 scholarships to be utilized at their graduate schools.
In addition to the awards handed out, finalists for Dike Eddleman Male and Female Athlete of the Year and Newcomer of the Year also were announced. The Eddleman and Newcomer winners will not be announced until the conclusion of the spring sports seasons in June.
Leadership Academy Awards
Leader of Merit
Female Newcomer of the Year Finalists