The Citizen's boys basketball players of the year from 2008 to present. The 2016-17 boys basketball player of the year was Gabe Short of Moravia.
Boys Basketball All-Stars: Moravia's Short leads Blue Devils to promise land
At some point, the village of Moravia will erect a sign for the Blue Devils' first basketball state championship.
"2017 Boys Basketball Class C state champions."
No player had a greater influence in making that a reality than center Gabe Short, The Citizen's boys basketball player of the year.
Short was named the New York State Public High School Athletic Association tournament's most valuable player after leading the Blue Devils to heights that had never been reached. He finished with a combined 28 points and 25 rebounds in wins over Stony Brook and Lake George to capture the state title.
"Gabe is extremely dedicated," Moravia coach Todd Mulvaney said. "He put in his fair share of work to turn into the player he ended up being. Along the way he realized the more he put into it, the better he'd get. He saw the results."
In three seasons with varsity, Short was named the 2017 IAC Small-School North division's most valuable player, is a two-time IAC first-team all-star, made fourth-team all-state as a junior and was named as an all-state honorable mention as a sophomore. He's one of six players in Moravia history to reach the 1,000 career points plateau (Short finished with 1,017).
In 2016-17, Short averaged 18.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
His rise to become one of the top players in New York wasn't an easy one. Despite a solid sophomore year, Short evolved his overall game as a junior and senior, becoming not just a dominant player under the rim, but someone who can hit a mid-range or three-point shot.
"When I first started I was a good post player, but not as fast or agile as I am now," Short said. "I couldn't really shoot the ball. I've put in so much time and effort in the offseason doing AAU and open gym, or sneaking into school late nights to shoot by myself."
Part of Short's growth in maturity was the constant demand from his head coach. As more and more was expected of him, the more Short delivered.
"When Gabe was younger in his sophomore year, he struggled with a lot of the mental parts of the game," Mulvaney said. "That part has blossomed and matured. He was able to handle adversity better as the years went on. I was harder on him because he's a leader and we expected so much."
As Moravia progressed through the state tournament, Short made big play after big play. It wasn't necessarily through major scoring efforts — his 10 points in the title game were below his season average — but with dominant rebounding and other intangible winning plays.
"He exemplified being a leader and a winner," Mulvaney said. "The charges he drew were huge. He understood the scouting report going into every game and communicated that to our players. He didn't have his greatest offensive performance (in the state title game) but we don't win without him."
Short is still weighing his future options; he's been accepted to SUNY Cortland where he might study athletic training, or could choose to start college at Broome. Short has also been in contact with UNC-Chapel Hill and notes that it's always been a dream to "wear a jersey that says 'Carolina.'"
No matter his destination, Short recognizes that he wouldn't be where he is without fellow seniors Jordan Crossgrove, Parker Dickenson, Zack Becker, Austin Kulas and Dustin Mondics. That group, along with the rest of the Blue Devils, will always be viewed in a special light by a town that truly loves its basketball.
"The community shows us so much support and they're always behind us," Short said. "They're always behind us no matter what we do as a team and it's great to have a community that supports a sports team or school in general like ours does."
Winter 2016 Boys Basketball All-Stars: Weedsport's O'Connor returns better than ever
His coach calls him a glue guy.
And a leader.
He was one of the most productive players in Section III this past season.
JJ O'Connor, The Citizen's boys basketball player of the year, wore a lot of hats for the Weedsport Warriors this year.
"It's nice to have all of the production he had, 25 points and over 10 rebounds a game, from one guy," Weedsport coach Jon Sgarlata said. "But he was also our glue guy that kept the team together. That's not normally the type of roll for the star of the team, but it's just the way he is."
O'Connor led Weedsport to a 21-2 record, a berth in the Section III, Class C semifinals, reached the 1,000-point plateau, and was named part of the Section III all-tournament team and the Patriot National League player of the year.
Somehow, none of that can be considered his greatest accomplishment.
On Dec. 27, 2014, O'Connor, then a junior, and the Warriors faced Southern Cayuga in the championship of the Cayuga County Holiday Basketball tournament. A night that was meant to be special turned into everything but.
During the game, O'Connor suffered a season-ending knee injury — a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus — his season, and future, was in jeopardy.
"When I did it, it was this weird pain I've never felt before," O'Connor said. "I've strained my knee a few times playing outside of high school and just bounced back from it. This time was different, and I start to think, 'This can't be happening to me.'
"Just sitting there, you're trying to be into the game with all of your teammates, but your thinking about your personal issues and worry about what happens afterward more than that moment."
O'Connor was in for a long road ahead. Doctors knew immediately that his meniscus was torn, and determined after swelling subsided that his ACL was gone, too.
"That's when I was like, 'Alright, eight months to get back.'"
O'Connor, also a standout for the Warriors' football program, was in a brace and walking on crutches for the next six weeks. After that, "it's all in your control with how hard you work." O'Connor trained with Victory Sports Medicine's David Schultz to recover the mobility and strength in his knee, and was back in time for football season.
"It became ingrained in my mind that I'm going to come back and do more than what everybody else does," O'Connor said. "I wanted to get past the norm, and [Schultz] did a wonderful job in helping me get there."
Recovering from a serious knee injury isn't like riding a bike. There are not only physical doubts, but mental ones, and it took O'Connor time to overcome all of that.
"I was really worried right before I started running and cutting," O'Connor said. "You're not doing that kind of stuff for five months at that point. I was like, 'Well, what if it doesn't work for me? What if I stumble, lose my balance and mess it up again?' I started to work on both my knees to make sure that it wouldn't happen again."
O'Connor hit the weight room, predominately to protect his knee and bulk up for football. He saw the effects once basketball rolled around, too.
"In past years, I was skinnier and playing up with bigger boys," O'Connor said. "They were taller and stronger than me, and I wondered how I could get to that next level. I wanted to finish through contact or make a good pass when I'm in trouble, stuff like that."
Added Sgarlata, "He was always a guard for basketball, but all of sudden he muscled up to 230 pounds and still had those guard skills. It's hard to compare a high school player to a professional, but he's like LeBron James in terms of the skills of a guard with the size of a forward. You couldn't put a small guy on him because he was stronger, and he was too quick for the big guys."
Bigger, stronger and better than ever, O'Connor returned to achieve almost everything an individual can. His favorite moment during a dominant senior season?
"Probably senior night," O'Connor said. "That was the most packed our house had been all year. Just being out there with the guys I grew up with playing CCYO, modified, JV and now the past two years on varsity. I had a blast playing with my brother [Jake] this year, Steve Nemec the past two seasons, Nick [Jones], Riley [Spingler], all the guys off the bench who would celebrate every big play — it was a lot of fun."
Sgarlata, having completed his first year as coach of the boys varsity team, looks at O'Connor in a completely different light.
"He's a straight-A student," Sgarlata said. "You see a kid that dominates in two sports and you think of him as a jock. He's a really intelligent person that puts academics first. If you ask what he likes to do in his spare time, he'll say reading. He's just that type of kid.
"He's well-rounded and could probably be a doctor if he wanted. I think that's something that people miss."
Not bad for a glue guy.
Boys Basketball All-Stars: Southern Cayuga's Justin Schneider takes on new role
POPLAR RIDGE | Anyone that watched the Southern Cayuga boys basketball team last season probably noticed a different Justin Schneider.
At 6-foot-6, the lanky senior was still usually the tallest player on the court, but he appeared leaner and more athletic.
“I definitely put a lot more time in the gym,” Schneider said. “I also put some work in with a personal trainer of mine, did a couple of sessions with him. He definitely helped me out with my shooting form, my post moves and just my overall basketball knowledge. We went over some game tape and my conditioning is better than last year. I started going to a cross fit gym and that really changed things.”
Offseason work at Barn Warrior Cross fit not only helped Schneider’s form, but with his new role as the team’s leader. With standout scorer Tom Miller graduating in 2014, Schneider knew it was his turn to wear the leadership crown. The Citizen’s boys basketball player of the year saw his stats jump from 10 points and 10 rebounds to this year’s average of 19 points and 14 rebounds per game.
“With Tom leaving, he was the major scorer on my team,” Schneider said. “No offense to the guys, but no one was really going to step up and I knew I had to do it myself. And 10 points a game wasn’t going to be enough to keep us on the winning side of the games, so I knew I had to step up in that department.”
Admittedly not an in-your-face kind of guy, Schneider mostly relied on leading by example to help bring his team back to the Section IV, Class D finals this year.
“Leadership-wise, I’m not a very vocal person,” Schneider said. “I’m usually pretty quiet, so that was a change for me. I’ve never been a captain, other than in modified soccer, so it was definitely a different role you have to take on, but I think I did a fairly decent job at it.”
A repeat appearance in the sectional finals, despite a low seed and a dismal January win total, comes with a credit to Schneider. The Chiefs won the Cayuga County Holiday Tournament in the days following Christmas, but didn’t play to that level again until February.
“We were feeling the pressure a little bit after we won the tournament,” Schneider said. “We should have won some games against Groton and Lansing. That was very disappointing. I was very frustrated after those games, but we stuck together and pulled through.”
Sticking together meant stringing together impressive playoff wins, including upending No. 1 Delhi in the sectional semifinals – a victory that only surprised those outside of the team.
“I’m definitely proud that we went that far again, because I know people really didn’t expect us to,” Schneider said. “We had lost seven seniors, so it’s not anything to be ashamed of to get that far again.”
Next up for Schneider – after playing some spring tennis for Southern Cayuga – will hopefully be an acceptance to attend and play basketball at either the University of Rochester or RIT. He’s pretty happy with the basketball program he’s graduating from though.
“We’ve started to create a program that’s pretty good,” Schneider said. “One that’s going to be a perpetual contender for a sectional championship, hopefully.”
Boys Basketball all-stars: Moravia's Benson makes his mark on boys basketball fans, school record book
MORAVIA | Chandler Benson knows that for him, there probably won't be another place like Moravia High School.
Where a large part of the town will be packed into the high school gym on a weeknight to watch the boys basketball team play, where fans and family will flock to him after a playoff win to ask for autographs and pictures.
Even as the 6-foot-7 Blue Devils standout center prepares to begin his college basketball career at nearby Le Moyne College, Benson understands that the environment won't be the same as he's grown accustomed to over the last four years.
"I'm used to (the attention) now because I haven't been anywhere else," Benson said. "I know I'm going to realize it (in college), because I went to a Le Moyne game when the season started and we have more people here for a regular season exhibition game. I was kind of like, 'That's weird, maybe there's more people.' I'm hoping that I when I go play, that I can bring some support with me, and playing in Syracuse will increase the chances of that happening."
The Citizen's boys basketball player of the year finished his career with all of the individual accomplishments he could have hoped for - in the first round of the Section IV, Class C playoffs, Benson became the school's all-time leading scorer, and finished his career with 1,152 points at Moravia. He estimates that his rebound total concluded somewhere around 700. For the last year or so, Benson had dozens of colleges, many of then Division II or III, interested in his talents. At some point, he lost count of how many.
But for the best player in the league, all of the points, the rebounds, the attention and the accolades won't dismiss the "but" that stamps his senior season.
"I don't really think about it like that, being the leading scorer," Benson said. "We didn't get to do what I wanted us to do as a team this year. It's a positive, but ..."
But the Blue Devils, state-ranked and running over most everyone all season, fell apart in the Section IV, Class C championship game. Moravia was down by a mile heading into the fourth quarter, before making a run that got them just close enough to be devastating when Moravia lost to Elmira Notre Dame. Less than a year after playing for the state title, Benson in particular was visibly upset when another appearance in the state tournament was just out of reach.
"(A state title) was my goal, my number one goal," he said. "It was a rough couple of days. I felt, not really entitled, I kind of expected to win that game and then we came out a little slow. At least we made a comeback toward the end, but I don't know if that made it harder, because we could have played that well the whole game."
As disappointing as the end of the season was, Benson is determined to see a positive in it.
"It was a different position for us to be in, we weren't used to having to come back," he said. "But I think one of the biggest things was the seniors on the team, we realized that it was going to be our last game. So we were going to put together what we could, it was a pretty great run."
Beginning this summer, Benson plans to work on the next phase of his basketball life. He wants to get faster, more efficient on the court - because ultimately, he'd like to play basketball after college.
"When I was was little, there were these little goal sheets we had to fill out, and the NBA was always on there (for me)," Benson said. "It's definitely something I'll work towards, and I think that's always a possibility at Le Moyne."
For the last few months of high school, though, he can enjoy the fans' admiration of the stamp he's left on the Moravia boys basketball program.
"Mostly in the community (the compliments are) nice, but just today in school, one of the teachers stopped me and said, 'You had a great career and I really enjoyed watching you,'" Benson said. "I get that at least three times a day, from people I don't even know and it means a lot."
Powerful finish: Powers leads Moravia to Final Four
Dylan Powers isn’t a player of many words.
While he was getting his picture taken after being named The Citizen’s boys basketball player of the year for the winter of 2012-13, he started to turn a shade of red far different than the navy blue uniform he wore when his baseball teammates started a familiar chant in the Moravia High School Gym.
“Dy-lan Pow-ers, [clap, clap, clap-clap-clap],” the often overused cadence of high school student sections echoed. “Dy-lan Pow-ers, [clap, clap, clap-clap-clap].”
“Make sure that everyone knows that is my ball,” Dylan Haskell shouted over to Powers.
The guard-forward just laughed.
“Those guys always want shout-outs in the paper,” Powers said later.
He doesn’t say all that much, but he led his team to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C semifinal this winter and the Blue Devils had the eventual state champions on the ropes through Powers’ actions, including his 1,000th career point at Moravia.
“He’s a quiet leader,” head coach Todd Mulvaney said before the state Final Four. “He does little, subtle things to be a leader, and the kids respond to him so well. When he does speak up, he gets a response from the kids. This whole sectional run -- it was Dylan Powers’ leadership that got us here.”
Starting in the sectional semifinal through the state semifinal, Powers averaged 22.5 points per game and was a key part of the Blue Devils 25-9 first quarter against Odessa-Montour in the sectional semi. Then he scored 13 points in a 17-1 Moravia run to end the first quarter of the sectional final win over Watkins Glen, and then he was in the middle of a 25-2 burst in the regional final that shocked Beaver River and put Moravia through to the state Final Four.
Powers came out of nowhere to block a shot with 2:40 left in the Class C state semifinal. The stop led to a Chandler Benson dunk and put Moravia ahead 51-45 over eventual state champion Lake George. The Warriors fought back and beat the Blue Devils in overtime, but the second trip to Glens Falls in his career does shake some words out of Powers.
“It was definitely fun. It was definitely our goal throughout the year to get back there. It didn’t end how we wanted it to, but to get there is such an accomplishment,” Powers said. He was a freshman on the 2009-10 Moravia team that reached, but also lost, in the state semifinal.
That freshman season was also the start of Powers’ assault on the 1,000-point scoring plateau which he reached in the sectional semifinal. He ended up with 1,080 points in the end.
“As a freshman, Coach Mulvaney told me that was my goal. He helped me get there,” Powers said in his typical concise manner.
That leads to the end of the four-year relationship between the player and the coach. Mulvaney was nearly in tears outside of the Moravia locker room after the overtime loss in the state semifinal. Powers’ eyes were red.
“Dylan has had a great career. He is going to have great memories of his career here at Moravia and he has been through a lot. I wanted it so bad for him to win that game. He wanted it so bad. It just didn’t happen. When it is all said and done they will all look back and realize what they did,” Mulvaney said of all the seniors on the Moravia roster.
“He is definitely the best coach around, no doubt. He gets us ready for every game. I don’t even know what to say. He is an awesome coach that knows so much about the game and then he teaches us more about life than about basketball. He is an awesome coach and awesome guy,” Powers said of Mulvaney in what could be labeled a soliloquy for Powers.
After the coach, the teammates – those same ones with the chant while Powers takes a couple of easy layups as the flash goes off – are going to be missed as well.
“We had a great time,” Powers said about the trip to Glens Falls. “We went out to dinner and then played some 2K on PS3 in the hotel rooms. I played Sam Allen, beat him every time, I got Dylan Haskell too.”
Just a few shout-outs from a guy that doesn’t say all that much.
Powers steps into new leadership role
For the past two seasons, Dylan Powers has been content to watch and learn from Pat Mott and Jeremy Stewart as the Moravia boys basketball team won back-to-back Section IV, Class C titles and whipped the small town into a frenzy with the Blue Devils’ incredible playoff runs.
This season, it was Powers who had to step into the leadership role after Mott and Stewart passed the reigns. The junior accepted the challenge, and led the Blue Devils to a quarterfinal appearance. He averaged 15.1 ppg, 3.35 assists, 7.45 rebounds and 2.5 steals. Powers is The Citizen’s 2012 boys basketball Player of the Year.
Leadership is something that Moravia coach Todd Mulvaney put on Powers’ to-do list from the get-go.
“That’s something we had to build on this year, and to be honest at the beginning of the year he wasn’t all that great at it,” Mulvaney said.
“It’s something we were pounding into his head everyday. That’s actually when we got better, when Dylan took the leadership role, when he showed the team how we do things.”
“Everything that they did I watch them closely because I knew I was going to be around for a while and I knew what they were doing was right,” Powers said of Mott and Stewart. “Look where it took us.”
Powers was moved up as an eighth-grader, and scored seven points in his debut. He made his first impact when Mott (ankle) wasn’t able to go in a game that would decide the division title between Moravia and Groton.
“I hope that this isn’t the highlight of his career for him, but he hit a buzzer beater to beat Groton in Groton,” Mulvaney said.
It was the first title for the Blue Devils since 1978. From there, Moravia won back-to-back Section IV, Class C titles, and made one trip to the state final four in Glens Falls.
“Our first day of practice we taped Glens Falls onto our lockers and that’s where we ended up,” Powers said. “We knew we wanted to go far.”
This season, expectations weren’t quite so lofty.
Moravia won a sectional game against Thomas A. Edison, and lost to eventual Section IV champion Elmira Notre Dame.
The Blue Devils only had one senior and will return 11 next season. Many are playing AAU.
“We knew we were going to be young, but we knew we couldn’t take any days off and we had to work together every day,” Powers said.
“I’m just trying to be a leader, showing them what Pat and Jeremy showed me about basketball.”
The Blue Devils success in basketball has led the school to strive for even greater success in other sports.
Powers is Moravia’s quarterback, and plays shortstop/pitcher for the baseball team.
Despite his achievements in basketball, his passion lies on the diamond, where he hopes to continue playing in college.
With the nice weather giving area teams rare head start, and talent in the field, he’s hoping to lead the baseball team to a winning record.
Success has only whet the Blue Devils’ appetite for more hardware in their trophy case this spring.
“It makes you not want to lose in other sports,” he said. “It makes the competitiveness go up.”
Scoring is his game
Kemba. Jimmer. Nick?
His name doesn’t sound like that of a scorer, but the numbers tell a different story. Auburn’s Nick Granato led all area players in scoring, pouring in 22 points per game. But the shear volume of points wasn’t the most impressive statistic surrounding Granato — it was the percentage of total team points that made Granato a star player and The Citizen’s boys basketball player of the year.
Not only did Granato score 22 a game, but he scored 22 for a team that averaged only 55 points. At the end of the season, in 16 games played, Granato’s 352 points accounted for 39.8 percent of his team’s points. In comparison, UConn’s Kemba Walker, who scores 23.6 per game for Connecticut, accounted for 32.1 percent of his team’s points. Even Jimmer Fredette, who scored 28.8 a game for BYU, still only accounted for 35.3 percent of the Cougars’ points.
“I just look at it as, this is my part of the job for our team. I was scoring and everyone else has their part,” Granato said. “My brother’s a point guard, he passes. The big men, (Anthony) Pollard and Conor (Engle), they rebound, and B-Roe (Brian Roe) defends. So just like they did their part, my part is scoring. Just doing my part of the job.”
Granato excelled so much at his “job” in the real world a promotion would have been deserved. In the Section III, Class AA playoffs, Granato scored 25 against Christian Brothers Academy. The Maroons fell to the Brothers but it had nothing to do with Granato, who scored 64 percent of his team’s 39 total points.
At one point, with three defenders draped on the senior, he crossed one up and drew the other two toward him, just to throw a no-look, over-the-shoulder pass to a teammate for a wide open look at a layup.
“He played a great game,” CBA head coach Buddy Wleklinski said after the game. “He was keeping them in it single-handedly. He had 25 of their 39, that’s not too bad.”
While other local teams advanced further in the playoffs, no singular player was more valuable to his team’s success than Granato. In addition to his points, he led Auburn in assists (4.4 per game) and steals (4.1). His 4.5 rebounds per game was good enough for third on the team.
“It’s a great honor,” Granato said. “I grew up playing with all those kids playing around here, Skaneateles and Moravia. There was never one game where it was, we were better than them or they were better than us. It was a great atmosphere growing up having great competition, no matter what school size or where they came from.”
Despite winning a playoff game, behind Granato’s scoring the Maroons still managed to capture a league title.
Auburn was on the road at rival Fayetteville-Manlius and trailed by double digits in the second half. Like they had all year, the Maroons turned to their leader, Granato, who drained a 3-pointer to kick-start his team’s comeback in an eventual 65-62 win.
“Playing at their place on their senior night was incredible, one of my most memorable basketball, or any other memory in my lifetime,” Granato said. “I mean that was great. We came back and I hit a 3 to put us up two. You know, we were clicking, we were good in the second half.”
It’s a memory that was accompanied by any scorer’s greatest thrill. Give a player with Granato’s ability the option to make a bucket to fire up his home fans, or one that immediately silences a raucous road arena, and the answer is always the same.
“Silence the place, if you can take the crowd out of things, you can take a team out of things. There’s always one play that seems to motivate or bring down a team’s spirit,” Granato said. “Definitely taking the crowd out of their place, F-M’s place, or any place for that matter.
“It was big game too. It was for the division title. They still had another chance but after that 3, their hopes were going down. It was a great feeling.”
Mott propels Blue Devils' championship run
Each morning the commotion that echoed throughout the Moravia High School halls had nothing to do with the previous night's Big Monday college basketball matchup on ESPN, or what happened on “Grey's Anatomy”. Instead, teachers and students were talking about Moravia basketball.
“It's awesome,” senior guard Pat Mott said. “Before when we were freshman, people didn't talk basketball. This year there was a buzz. People were talking, asking how we did and who scored.”
A lot of the buzz was created by Mott, The Citizen's boys basketball player of the year.
Mott has put on the Blue Devils jersey since he was a freshman. He's dealt with the lows and led his team to the highs.
Head coach Todd Mulvaney has said all year, “Big players step up in big games.” And Mott did just that. In Moravia's five-game run to the state's Class C final four, Mott powered the Blue Devils, averaging 20.4 points a game.
When his team most desperately leaned against him, the senior just stood stronger. In the IAC championship game against Spencer-Van Etten, Mott's team trailed by four heading into the second half. As they did all season the Blue Devils turned to the senior, who drilled a jumper that just so happened to be his 1,000th point, which ignited a 11-0 run and Moravia never looked back.
In its sectional semifinals game, a rematch of the IAC championship contest, with his team struggling in the first half only up two, Mott banked in a 3 at the buzzer. He then exploded out of the locker room drilling four 3s in first four minutes of the third quarter, posing, fist pumping, and waving his arms after each, transforming a dormant crowd into a raucous environment and a two point lead to 19. In all the “big time player” dropped 27 of his 33 points in the second half.
He followed that performance up one game later after his Blue Devils pounded Groton in the sectional finals.
With a trip to Glens Falls on the line, Moravia headed into the locker room down by five against Tully. Mott again shouldered the load, erupting for 23 of his game-high 35 points in the second half. Teaming up with Stewart, they had a hand in every basket in the second half comeback, clinching a regional title.
“I'm just trying to help my team,” Mott said. “This past offseason I dedicated to help my team win. They look to me. I'm just trying to help win.”
And win they did. With Mott leading the way, the Blue Devils captured and cluttered its trophy case with every accomplishment available. Moravia was top three in scoring and defense in its league, won its division, league, section, region and came up one win shy of a berth in the state championship game.
“(The season) was magical,” Mott said. “Our team was very close too which made it that much more special.”
The hybrid guard/forward hopes it isn't his final special season. He'll be playing at the next level and has narrowed his choices to Clarkson, Utica, Brooksport and Cortland. He's earned his spot on a collegiate roster due to a high school career in which he scored more than 1,000 points, led his team to the state semifinals, and captained the best team in the history of Moravia basketball, something that won't be secluded to the halls of Moravia High School.
“It's awesome,” Mott said. “For me and my team to accomplish that, we can come back 10, 20 years and talk about that. It's surreal.”
Hard work pays off for Stewart, Blue Devils
With no seniors on the roster, the Moravia boys basketball team needed someone to take control of games. Jeremy Stewart was glad to fill that role.
The senior forward averaged 17.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game and is The Citizen's boys basketball player of the year. Stewart helped guide the Blue Devils to a No. 2 seed in the Section IV, Class C playoffs, where they lost in the semifinals.
But there's one good thing about not having any seniors - the entire team returns.
“I want to get to the state tournament next year,” Stewart said. “We definitely can do that.”
Stewart's game improved throughout his junior campaign in large part due to his hard work during the offseason. To improve his shooting he would take 25 shots from the free-throw line and then move back to take 10 at the 3-point line. He would have to make five in a row before he could move on. From there, he would dribble up to the basket and make more shots in a row. If he missed at any time, he would start over again.
All that work paid off, as Stewart proved to be a difficult match-up. At 6-feet tall, he's big enough to shoot over guards and quick enough to drive past forwards. And he's probably only going to get better, as Stewart plans to spend much of the offseason in the gym.
“Pick-up games with good players will help me work on that,” he said. “A lot of former high school players still play at the gym and I'll go and play with some of them.”
In the sectional playoffs, the Blue Devils lost to hot-shooting Odessa-Montour. Despite the 16 wins, Stewart said the season ended too abruptly.
“We could have done more,” Stewart said.
Aside from his scoring ability, Stewart is proud of the strides he's made at the defensive end. In the sectional quarterfinals against Delhi, Stewart had a key steal to give the Blue Devils an early lead that they never would relinquish. He set the tone early, and his teammates were buoyed off that intensity.
“Defense is the most important part of the game,” Stewart said. “Defense wins championships. Our last game of the year we allowed 72 points. That was why we lost.”
Stewart hopes a summer full of drills and activities will result in a state championship experience a year from now.
“I want to play well next year just like this season, but only better,” he said.
But like any good leader, he knows he has to rely on his teammates too.
“We have a diverse team,” Stewart said. “Everybody on the team can step up when needed, not just me.”
Julaun Richardson, Auburn Preston Dennison, Cato-Meridian Dillon Caswell, Cato-Meridian Cody Humberstone, Cato-Meridian Greg Pasho, Moravia Christian Berwind, Jordan-Elbridge Craig Meitz, Weedsport Sean Ashby, Weedsport
McClary led Union Springs to Section IV crown
This season, Cayuga County boys basketball was overrun with backcourt talent. From Class AA down to C, it was hard to remember a better year that forwards and centers dominated but as the playoffs wound down, one player began to distance himself.
Union Springs' Julius McClary was a juggernaut for the Section IV, Class C champions. The senior dominated every game down to the state playoffs, where he played with one contact lens and still managed to lead all scorers against the then No. 1 team in the state. This is why The Citizen has chosen Julius McClary as player of the year.
“There were many coaches this year that said he gets better and better every year,” said Union Springs coach Tim Darnell. “He did. He'd come back every year and you could see the improvement.”
McClary did not start playing for the Wolves until he was a freshman, but when he made his presence felt when he moved up to varsity soon after.
“I wasn't one of the good kids, but I was close enough that (Darnell) would work with me and make me a good player,” said McClary.
Following in the footsteps of standout older brother Bryan, McClary made a name for himself in the IAC, Division III with his quickness, rebounding and blocking abilities. He averaged 15 points per game, along with 11 rebounds and four blocks - that is just about 100 blocks in a season where Union Springs went deep into the playoffs.
With such a knack for rebounding and rejections, it is no surprise that defense is McClary's favorite part of the game.
“If I had a choice and it was like football and I could just go out and play defense, that's what I would want to do,” McClary said.
“He dominated games defensively,” Darnell said. “He intimidated the opposition. There were many games where teams wouldn't take the ball in there because they knew he was in there waiting for them.”
Both McClary and Darnell said that the senior has to work on his offense before he takes the next step. He hopes to play at St. John Fisher next season.
“The kid has worked real hard these last three years; he's improved greatly,” Darnell said. “I think he can play in college - there have been coaches inquiring about him. I just hope he continues to work hard. He realizes that basketball has opened a lot of doors for him.”