MOUNT VERNON — Success on the basketball court takes many individuals contributing toward a common cause. When you have a player that is capable of changing the outcome single-handily, however, it makes all the difference.
The Centerburg Trojans were a team that had many talented players. On any given night, a different player could lead the charge. One player, however, stepped forward nearly every night — junior Skyler Simpson. For his efforts, Simpson has been selected as the 2008-09 Mount Vernon News Player of the Year.
Simpson led Centerburg to a 14-7 record this season, including an 11-3 mark in the Mid-Buckeye Conference. He averaged nearly a double-double with 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds a game for the conference runners-up. He also averaged 2.2 blocks, 1.2 steals and 2.4 assists.
“Two years ago, as a freshman, he had some great seniors who helped him and pointed him in the right direction,” said Centerburg coach Jim Simpson. “Paul Crego, Zac DiMarco and Nick Hartley were seniors and they kind of took him under their wing. That taught him a lot about basketball. He also has great teammates, and they’ve helped him. They’ve gotten him the basketball when he was open, and he has capitalized on it. He also has worked hard in the offseason. It has paid off.”
Perhaps Simpson’s most telling statistics were his shooting percentages. The 6-foot-7 post player shot 54.8 percent from the field (125-of-228), 76.8 percent from the free-throw line (53-of-69) and, most impressively, 40 percent from three-point range (20-of-50).
“I’ve always wanted my post guys to be able to shoot outside, and I’ve worked with Skyler since he was little to be a shooter outside and not just inside,” his coach, who is also his father, said. “It is starting to pay off. He has been able to step out and hit some shots. He has really worked on getting open for those shots, and that makes him tough to defend.”
Joining Simpson on the All-Area First Team — and also considered for the top honor — were senior Rhett Harris of Danville, Highland senior Justin Howard, senior Ben Severns of Mount Vernon and East Knox junior Luke Branstool.
Harris was perhaps Simpson’s toughest competition for the top spot. He scored 367 points to finish as the area’s scoring champion, and helped the Blue Devils improve by seven games. He shot 40.7 percent from the field (105-of-258), 79.6 percent from the line (129-of-162, both area highs) and 32.2 percent from behind the arc (28-of-87). Harris also averaged an area-best 5.4 assists, and averaged 3.6 steals and 5.7 rebounds.
Much of the reason for Simpson’s success can be attributed to his teammates. Simpson, the Mid-Buckeye Conference Player of the Year, often had the liberty of playing within the framework of the team. He knew his role and performed it to the expectations.
“We’ve got some good players, and that has helped. It hasn’t been all Skyler,” said coach Simpson. “Granted, he has done some things, but we’ve also got Brandt (Lambert), Drew (Osborne) and Collin (Bumpus). They all come into the game and contribute; that helps free (Skyler) up because a lot of time he is getting double-teamed. When those guys start making shots, it gets Skyler open. His teammates have been a big plus for him. He couldn’t do it without them.”
With another year still to play, coach Simpson believes there is room for improvement. The offseason could hold the keys to reaching his — and his team’s — goals.
“I know he feels he could get a lot better, but his main concern is making his teammates better,” said coach Simpson. “Whatever it takes is what he is going to do. He will keep working hard because he wants to win. He has some high goals; he wants to get down to the coliseum and win. His team goals come before anything.
“He’s got to get stronger and quicker. That’s the biggest thing right now. He has got to get better defensively. It is all part of the game.”
The Second Team is made up of three juniors and two seniors. Honorees are Justin Dassylva, Utica, jr.; Cuy Sheffield, Mount Vernon, sr.; Brandt Lambert, Centerburg, jr.; Riley Cannon, Johnstown, jr.; and Heath Freeman, Clear Fork, sr. Earning Third Team selection are Kash Gordon, Mount Vernon Academy, sr.; Zach Hilborn, Highland, sr.; Joe Scott, Mount Vernon, jr.; Thomas Hinkle, Fredericktown, jr.; and Tyler Mowery, Loudonville, sr.
Making up the Honorable Mention squad are Andrew Newell, Fredericktown, sr.; Garrett Blue, Danville, sr.; Drew Osborne, Centerburg, jr.; Kelsey Harriman, Utica, sr.; Ryan Barnett, Highland, sr.; Logan Slavinski, Clear Fork, so.; Michael Kessler, Johnstown; Kyle Nickles, Loudonville; Russell Doup, Mount Vernon; and Charlie Branstool, Utica.
Highland High School coach Mike Hoyng, who just finished his 24th season, was selected for his fourth All-Area Coach of the Year award after guiding the Scots to a 16-3 regular-season record and a share of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference Red Division title. The Scots advanced to the Division III Central District final for the second straight season. Hoyng was also selected as the Division III District 11 Coach of the Year, Division III Central District Coach of the Year and has been selected to coach in the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association’s North-South All-Star game.