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A class act from Class A

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's been quite a while since a Class A athlete captured the Evans Award as the boys basketball player of the year in West Virginia - nearly 30 years, in fact.

And it's been just about as long since a Class A player seriously merited mention for the honor, but that may be happening this season.

Mark Winters, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound man-mountain for Magnolia, could be changing the way folks regard players from smaller schools.

He averages 31.5 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots for a Blue Eagles squad that in recent years has been one of the state's dominant powers in Class AA before dropping down a division this season. Magnolia began the week ranked No. 2 in the Class A poll.

"He is a Class A player,'' said veteran Magnolia coach Dave Tallman, "but he's playing really well against double-A and triple-A competition. We had a heck of a time getting a schedule this year [because of the new classification], and we'll have to tone it down as we go.''

Winters is perhaps best known for the monster game he turned in during last year's AA state tournament quarterfinals. In a memorable three-overtime loss to Tolsia and Jacob Copley, Winters poured in 33 points and grabbed 12 rebounds before fouling out.

That sort of performance - and reputation - gives Winters a chance in a strong field littered with Division I signees and top-notch talent in Class AAA, a division that has produced the last 12 Evans Award winners.

Three others in the running for the honor have already signed with D1 programs:

  • Nathan Adrian, Morgantown (West Virginia) - A 6-9, 200-pound senior, he averages 18.3 points and 13.3 rebounds for an 8-1 Mohigans squad that started the week ranked No. 5 in AAA.
  • Luke Eddy, George Washington (Elon) - A 6-foot senior guard and returning first-team all-stater, he has already played in seven state tournament games. He's racked up three 30-point games this season for the Patriots (7-3), including 44 against Winfield, and leads the Mountain State Athletic Conference at 25.3 ppg.
  • Chris Shields, Hedgesville (Longwood) - A 6-7, 175-pound forward for the defending AAA state champion Eagles, he averages 13.9 points and eight rebounds.
  • You might as well throw Martinsburg's Donte' Grantham in that mix as well, for he's also likely to land at a Division I school. The 6-7, 200-pound Grantham averages 16.1 points and 6.5 rebounds and has already had WVU coaches watch two of his games this season.

    That's a rather heady list of candidates for the Evans Award - and that's just the start (see list, below). Certainly other players will garner attention in their respective corners of the state and perhaps beyond.

    Tallman said he had Winters' future in mind when making out his schedule for this season, stocking up games against schools such as Logan, Parkersburg, Nitro and Dayton Chaminade Julienne (Ohio).

    "I had an idea Mark might be in consideration for it,'' Tallman said, "and that's one of the reasons I went out and scheduled some of those larger schools. And we've had success with them.''

    Magnolia beat Logan and Nitro by a combined 50 points (Winters tallied 22 against Nitro during the West Virginia Hoops Classic at the Civic Center) and beat CJ by five.

    Tallman's had players in the running for the Evans Award before. Ted Talkington, the school's all-time scoring leader who later played at WVU, finished as runner-up for the honor in both 2003 and 2004 when the Blue Eagles competed in double-A.

    So Tallman knows what it takes, and he thinks Winters has it.

    "The greatest thing about Mark Winters is his work ethic,'' Tallman said. "He has not laid down at all. He's played AAU all four years. He works his tail off every day when he comes to practice, and he leads the team.

    "That's going to help my program not only for this year, but for years to come. The younger guys see his work ethic, and I'm going to be able to refer to that in the future. He just has that will to win, and it's brought everybody's level up.''

    Tallman realizes it could be a long shot for Winters to claim the award, especially since some members of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association (who vote on the honor) will give extra attention to Class AAA players and Division I recruits.

    Herbie Brooks of Mullens (and later WVU) was the last Class A athlete to take the Evans Award, and that was all the way back in 1984. The most recent AA winner was Tug Valley's Greg Davis in 2000.

    Winters, who has started 81 games in his Blue Eagles career and scored 1,540 points, will probably wind up at a Division II program because, as Tallman said, "he loves to play and wouldn't really like to go and wait two, three years to play.''

    There's also the fact that Winters doesn't quite fit into the mold of most D1 players, being a shade too short for the front line and perhaps too stocky for the backcourt, though he's developed a nice stroke from 3-point range.

    "He's a good athlete,'' Tallman said. "He's no stiff. He handles the ball for us sometimes against pressure [defense]. In 11 games, he's got 11 turnovers, and that's phenomenal.''

    So far, Tallman said, Wheeling Jesuit is the only Division II school to offer Winters a full ride, but West Liberty, the nation's No. 1 team in D2, has told him "not to be in a hurry to sign,'' because they may come through with something.

    Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.

    Other players who could draw support for the Bill Evans Award as the boys basketball player of the year in West Virginia (listed  alphabetically):

  • TaRon Ayers, Summers County - A 5-10 junior guard and transfer from Woodrow Wilson who averages 26.6 points.
  • Chase Connor, Shady Spring - A 6-2 senior guard who led the state in scoring last year (28.3 ppg) and averages 23.6 this season.
  • Levi Cook, Liberty Raleigh - A 6-10, 305-pound sophomore who's already given a verbal commitment to WVU and averages 23.6 points.
  • Anthony Eades, Bluefield - A 6-3 junior who helped the Beavers to last year's AA title game, he averages 18.5 points for this season's No. 1-ranked team.
  • Travon Horton, Fairmont Senior - A 6-1 senior guard averaging 21 points for the Polar Bears (8-3, No. 8 in AA).
  • Jalen Lewis, Martinsburg - A 6-2, 175-pound senior shooting guard whose 17.4 scoring average leads the unbeaten Bulldogs (10-0, No. 1 in AAA).
  • Mackenzie Martin, Chapmanville - A 6-4, 240-pound senior who had nearly 1,100 career points before the season started. Leads the Cardinal Conference at 20.8 points per game.
  • Ryan Meadows, Princeton - A 5-10 senior point guard leading the resurgence of the Tigers (9-2, No. 6 in AAA). Ranks second to Eddy in MSAC scoring at 22.7 points per game.
  • Brett Morris, Webster County - A 6-4, 180-pound senior wing who averages 24 points for the Highlanders (7-1, No. 6 in AA), whom he led to last year's state tournament.
  • Mikey Newsome, Tug Valley - A 5-11 senior guard and returning first-team all-stater for last year's AA state champ. He averages 18.6 ppg this season.
  • Wes Mitchem, Parkersburg South - A 6-4 senior who averages 21.2 points and 9.2 rebounds against a solid schedule.
  • Rondale Watson, Greenbrier East - A 6-3 junior guard-forward and transfer from Oak Hill who averages 24.5 points for the Spartans (11-0, No. 4 in AAA).
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