By Jason Hoekema
The Ava Bears had a bounce-back season, ending 13-12 overall in the 2018-2019 season. The Bears continue to have a lot of growing and maturing to do on the maple strips, but some great potential lies in the 11-reamaining players on the varsity roster.
The Bears shot more than 1,742 points over 25 games, averaging 69.7 points-per-game. The breakdown includes 437 twos and 188 long-shots for three. The Bears shot at a season-average of 70-percent from the stripe, raking-in 304 free points on fouls drawn from opponents.
ETCHED IN STONE
The Ava basketball program is starting to flourish after some not-so-splendid seasons which are now far behind the kids on the roster. This year’s senior class will graduate four players, four leaders, from the bench. Their contributions are paramount in laying the foundation teams will build on in the coming years.
William Mork wasn’t the leader in the limelight for the Bears. Instead he was the best example of positivity and hard work according to coach Mike Mallow. His time, sweat, and influence was woven into the fabric of the team on the practice court, and it showed at game time.
Mallow said he never complained and always had a positive outlook. Despite not getting the time on the court most seniors yearn for, his time in practice and motivation to keep going will leave some great shoes to fill for the underclassmen. Mork leaves an important void on the roster that needs to be filled, win or lose next year.
Tom Emerich played a big role on the offense with 151 points and a great 70-percent at the free-throw line for 31. Averaging 6 points per game, his contributions were often in passes into the paint so that other players could score and take the board during team competition. Giving him credit for 35 assists this season. He looks forward to baseball season, which is his favorite sport and also his future as the four-year starting letterman student intends to become a student and play baseball for Crowder College.
Drake King was a force to be reckoned with under the rim. His height, rebounding and shooting ability led to 167 points for the senior this season. Scoring an average of 7.3 points-per-game he sunk 56 twos and was solid at the stripe, leading the team at 90.5-percent. He was the player to have on the rebound, with a total of 84 plus 25 assists in the season. His physicality, cool-mindedness, and playing ability also leaves a void, and his “protégé” is yet to be determined.
Caleb Johnson with his trademarked scoot, set, shoot routine from the arch led to 104 points from 22 successful shots from the arc this season. Caleb really shined in his defense with 20 deflections, 16 steals and took 11 solid charges for the team this season.
Defensively, Johnson was quick and sneaky. Several times this year he has caught opponent ball-handlers by surprise, popping the ball out from behind them and either stealing it or forcing the turnover with an Ava possession.
His speed also gave him an edge on the wire-to-wire sprint. On countless occasions, Johnson has set and taken charges for the Ava Bears. To get in position and interrupt the offensive momentum of the opponent, charge call or not, is a speed-skill that also leaves a void to fill.
Andrew Dalton is the name in frequent usage this year. The freshman has been thrust into a competitive arena and has flourished, often the target of double coverage.
Dalton led the Bears in scoring with at least 486 points this season. As a freshman, this also means that he has a great start to 1,000 points by the time he graduates in 2022.
With 150 twos, 31 threes, and 76.2-percent at the line for 93 points; Dalton has averaged 19.4 points-per-game and has been an obsession for opponent defenses who try to stop the young player who has a career-high of 34 points in a single game.
Dalton will be the player to watch in the coming years as he continues to improve and grow on and off the court.
Blake King will be taking a senior role in the 2019-2020 season. This year he came up with 309 points and led the team in three-pointers with 52 to his name. Leaving him unguarded on the wing is a sure way for an opponent to get set behind by three as the junior put up an average of 12.4 points-per-game.
King was also solid at the free-throw line, shooting 72.9-percent for 43 free points this year. His ability to toss the long-ball isn’t his only weapon as he also racked-up 55 twos this year with a season-high of 24 points in a single game.
Junior Nate Swofford will also be filling a leadership role as a senior on next year’s roster. This year he was third in overall points, scoring 241 points through 22 games to average 11 points-per-game. He is an impressive ball-handler and shoots from short and long distances. Swofford hit a total of 59 twos and 25 threes with a season-high 24 points in a single game.
Solid at the line, the now junior can pull fouls and shot at 73.8-percent from the line this season for 48 free points.
UP AND COMERS
In addition to Dalton, Blake King, and Swofford a young core of players emerged this season. Two of which come with the height needed to fill the shoes left by Drake King.
Mason Cole and Jacob Gillies are both athletic players with good height and reach. This is great for rebounds and shots from the post.
Cole made an impressive debut against Springfield Catholic in the team’s final game on Feb. 20. It wasn’t his first varsity game with time on the court, but against an opponent as stout as the Irish, Cole scored six points and came down with several defensive rebounds to help the Bears increase their possession numbers.
Cole is credited with 34 points this season, 30 rebounds and 6 assists.
Gillies is also a tall player with potential, and the only player on the entire Ava bench credited with an in-game slam dunk which he earned in an away game against Lutie High School on Jan. 15. Most of his statistics were made on the JV squad, but his varsity playing time led to a few points for the Bears.
He was credited with 5 rebounds and one assist with his time on the varsity clock.
Blayne Mendel and Kaden Bruce are a duo at the key, swapping time on the maple the two freshmen are the initial ball-handlers for the Ava Bears, often as the player relaying plays to the offense and starting the play action.
Bruce made a total of 123 points this year, attributed to his ability to drive the lane should the defense open it up for him. He hit a season-high 14 points in a single game and shot 17 twos and 22 threes this year. Bruce added 23 points to his tally at the stripe, shooting 60.5-percent.
Mendel has very similar offensive statistics, making 92 points during this season. He carries a season-high 13 points in a single game, shooting a total of 16 twos and 13 threes plus 65.6-percent at the line for another 21 points.
DON’T SLEEP ON THEM
Also, on the varsity roster, but not getting sums of time in-play are Quinton Donley, Zach Mendel, Zack Miller and Dylan King. Opposing teams need not sleep on these players, as each has their own talents on the offense.
Quinton Donley is still finding his role on the Ava team but was able to pull in 15 points this season. Zack Miller is also an offensive force on the JV squad who can drive an open lane and may find a role on the higher roster in the coming years with six points on the varsity clock.
Dylan King is young but has motivational leadership potential. It was at the game against Willow Springs that he helped motivate the bench, despite the score going the other way for the JV Bears. He tipped-in two points, but also had five rebounds, two deflections and a steal credited to his name this year.
Zach Mendel returned from a shoulder injury sustained during the football season and has seen plenty of JV and some varsity time on the court. As he continues to strengthen and grow, we may expect some clutch plays in the future. Because of his absence, his stats were incomplete.