WINCHESTER, Va. — The National Basketball Association is a league about star players. The nature of basketball allows single players to have an incredible influence on the performance of their teams. The best players in the NBA have talent far beyond the league average, and so their performances are especially noteworthy.
You’re less likely to see a player who can take over a game at the collegiate level, and even less likely to see it at the Division III level. If the NBA is a players’ game, college basketball belongs to the coaches. That’s one of the things that attracts me to the game in the first place: how coaches carefully balance the style they want to play and the athletes they recruit.
Sometimes, though, there is a player, who can be a dominant force, who will shine no matter what system he’s put in. In Division I, these players often play their one required year of college ball, before moving on to greener pastures. In Division III, we’re treated to four years of watching these players work their magic, while also engaging with them off the court. The College of Wooster, my alma mater, had a player like that in Ian Franks. Randolph College had Colton Hunt, who gave a jolt of energy to the nascent WildCats program. Cabrini College has Aaron Walton-Moss, who (academic struggles aside) has electrified Delaware County for nearly three years. Shenandoah University has Avery Green, who clearly appears to be this year’s frontrunner for ODAC player of the year.
Green got his start in Spotsylvania County, outside Fredericksburg, playing at Courtland High School, where he earned All-State honors as a senior, but was not recruited heavily, and so he applied to Shenandoah hoping to continue his basketball career. He established himself as a starter by his sophomore year, leading the team with 423 points in 27 games, averaging over 30 minutes in each start. Poised to have a breakout season as a junior, Green struggled early in the season before going down with an injury, and the Hornets limped along to a 1-15 finish in its inaugural ODAC season. You couldn’t begrudge an SU fan for being concerned about prospects for this season, Green’s last in Winchester.
The rest of the ODAC seemed to have doubts as well, picking the Hornets dead last in the preseason poll. If they were worried about Green’s production, they shouldn’t have. In his first official game back, against Methodist, he put up 29 points. When we first saw him, at the ACAC South Region Classic, he scored 37 points in 39 minutes against his hometown Mary Washington Eagles. In the process, he showed he could score from all over the floor. He’s barely slowed since, shooting nearly 53% from the floor, including 37.5% from beyond the arc, and accruing 23 points per game.
This brings us to Shenandoah’s game against Lynchburg College. Despite Green’s monster of a season, SU still found themselves in the bottom half of the ODAC. Their record all but guaranteed this game would be their last in Shingleton Gym for the season, and Avery Green’s (along with three other seniors’) final career home game. He received a rousing ovation upon his introduction, as his accomplishments were listed over the PA system.
For the first eight minutes, however, he did not exhibit his typical magic. Still, his presence was felt, as Coach Hilliary Scott kept a double team on Green, opening gaps for his fellow Hornets, including fellow senior Dante Seraile, who scored five SU’s first 14 points. Coach Rob Pryor put Green on the bench with twelve on the clock, and the visiting Hornets up 19-14 over the home ones.
Meanwhile, Austen Arnold was giving Lynchburg an excellent effort off the bench, making up for an off-night from LC star Manny Hernandez, scoring 13 points. After SU’s center Kevin Lecsaint went out, Lynchburg’s size advantage became even more pronounced, allowing them to score with ease in the paint, as well as getting to the foul line. After Green reentered the game, he became Coach Pryor’s defensive general, and completely took over on the offensive side of the floor, scoring 8 of the last 11 Shenandoah points in the half, going to the break down 6.
It was more of the same for Green in the second half, accounting for more than half of SU’s offensive production. Unfortunately, that also meant he was receiving little help on offense. Xavier Alston pulled down seven offensive boards, but they did not translate to points.
Lynchburg, on the other hand, spread the ball around, allowing eight players in their ten-man rotation to score, but none of them in double figures. While they scored at a less prodigious pace than in the first, they did what they needed to do. And despite forcing 11 turnovers, SU was unable to convert them into fast-break points. Although they pulled within one early in the half, they were never able to take the lead, as Lynchburg won 74-67.
A bulletin board in Shingleton Hall displays small bios of SU’s basketball team. Avery Green’s mentions his favorite moment as an SU basketball player (defeating North Carolina Wesleyan in the USA South tournament is sophomore year) as well as his plans for the future. He says he wants to play professionally, overseas. When we got the opportunity to interview Avery, he was quick to give credit to his teammates and coaches for his accomplishments, saying that “every award that I’ve gotten this year is because of them.” When asked to recall his experiences in Division III basketball, he recalled his first game, also in Shingleton against Eastern Mennonite, and his nerves upon getting in the game, and the faster pace of the college game. Given his development from nervous freshman to dominant senior, we have to believe he has the ability and the drive to accomplish his goals.
• Final: Lynchburg Fighting Hornets 74, Shenandoah Hornets 67
• Player of the Game: Avery Green (Shenandoah, 28 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals)
• Honorable Mention: Austen Arnold (Lynchburg, 17 points on 6 field goal attempts, 5 rebounds)
• Check out our photos on Flickr
• Mileage Tracker: 2668 miles
• Next Stop: Hampden-Sydney at Randolph-Macon (The Game), February 19