Nate Pierre-Louis has come a long way since his college career basketball began last year at Temple. His career began with four straight games of DNP (did not play, coach’s decision). In fact, six of his first eight games ended that way.

Pierre-Louis eventually earned serious playing time. His improvement from the beginning of the year to the end was substantial.

This year, the 6-foot-4 sophomore took another major leap and was rewarded on Tuesday by being named the American Athletic Conference’s most improved player of the year. Pierre-Louis shared the honor with 6-10 UConn sophomore Josh Carlton.

“Winning most improved is a testament to the hard work,” Pierre-Louis said Tuesday before practice. “I have been working my tail off every day, defensively, offensively. It is a blessing.”

Last year, he averaged 9.9 points per game and was named to the AAC all-rookie team. This season, Pierre-Louis is averaging 13.4 points per game and is second on the Owls in rebounding (5.7). He is also Temple’s top defensive player.

Pierre-Louis’ improvement has coincided with Temple’s. The Owls are 23-8 and finished 13-5 in the AAC. They have earned the third seed and a first-round bye in the AAC Tournament in Memphis. Temple will play Friday in a 9 p.m. quarterfinal against the winner of No. 6 Wichita State and No. 11 East Carolina.

Pierre-Louis’ play on both ends of the court has Temple on the verge of earning an NCAA berth if the Owls aren’t in already.

One thing that is sure is that Temple would not have been in this position without the contribution of Pierre-Louis, who starred at Roselle Catholic in North Jersey.

“That is big,” said teammate Shizz Alston about Pierre-Louis’s award. “I felt he should have been on second or third team [all-conference]. I felt he had that caliber of a season, but this recognizes his hard work.”

Temple coach Fran Dunphy had a similar feeling. “He deserves it,” Dunphy said. “I don’t know too many people who put in the same amount of work.”

Pierre-Louis is coming off an outstanding defensive effort during Saturday’s 67-62 win over Central Florida. Guarding UCF’s leading scorer, B.J. Taylor, Pierre-Louis held the AAC first-team all-conference choice to eight points on 1-for-8 shooting.

“I think that was one of my most prolific defensive games I have had in my life,” Pierre-Louis said. “He is one of the best players in the conference and I wanted to prove I am one of the best defensive players in the conference and the country.”

Notes

Alston, who was named first-team all-conference on Monday, was selected to the USBWA all-District II team on Tuesday. Villanova’s Eric Paschall was also named to the 10-player team. The others are Tyus Battle (Syracuse) Jesse Govan (Georgetown), CJ Massinburg (Buffalo), Matt Morgan (Cornell), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s), Myles Powell (Seton Hall), Lamar Stevens (Penn State) and Justin Wright-Foreman (Hofstra), who was also named the player of the year.