Saunders leads Southmont to historic season, earns JR Boys Basketball Player of the Year
Avery Saunders led Southmont to a county title, Sagamore Conference title for the first time in school history, a sectional title for the first time since 1994, and the most wins in school history (19).
NEW MARKET — There was no debate who the best player in Montgomery County was this past season in boys basketball. Some including Southmont coach Jake Turner called him the best player in the Sagamore Conference. Avery Saunders helped lead Southmont to a season that will be remembered forever. Their first sectional title since 1994, a first Sagamore Conference title and the most wins (19) in school history, Saunders and the Mounties achieved greatness all season long.
Individually Saunders scored 18.7 points per game while grabbing 8.2 rebounds while shooting 54% from the field and 77% from the free-throw line. He was named a First-Team All SAC performer for the second straight season and was invited to participate in the Hoosier Basketball Top 60 Senior Workout as one of the top 60 senior boys players in the state.
While the magical season that Southmont had would come to an end in the Regional semi-final against the eventual Regional champions in Eastern Hancock, Saunders enjoyed every single second of it as he and his team saw all of their hard work pay off.
“I would sum up the year as the end result of a lot of work we put in to reach goals that the team and coach made,” Saunders said. “We worked hard to achieve the goals such as county, conference and sectional champions. It was a whole team effort and other teams just couldn’t stop what we were doing.”
Saunders with his level of play this season and the success that the Mounties had on the court because of it, there’s no question that he is worthy of the 2022 Journal Review Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Turner has seen the hard work and dedication that Saunders has put into his game. Whether it be during the off-season, during the season or whenever he has a free moment, Saunders is always working on getting up shots and improving his game.
“His success is a direct correlation of that hard work,” Turner said. “He’ll be at practice early, go hard during practice and he’s a guy that you have to kick out of gym sometimes. He just simply loves to play basketball and is really a success story in the fact that he’s improved every single year and has earned everything that has come his way.”
That work ethic has been instilled in Saunders ever since he was a young kid. Basketball was a part of who he was and still is. He knew that in order to achieve success it wouldn’t be handed to him and that he would have to earn everything. A big part of his work ethic was instilled in him by his grandfather as Saunders mentions.
“Growing up I saw that my grandpa would go to work constantly with no excuses,” he said. “That showed me that if I want to be the best basketball player I can be I’d have to work for it and that’s exactly what I did. I’m very competitive by nature so there were a lot of basketball games played in my driveway and different basketball courts and the game has been my favorite pastime and I’ve just loved int my entire life.”
Saunders while going the through his young days of basketball played point guard before he grew into his full 6’5 frame. That skill set of playing point guard was shown routinely this past season as Saunders was more than comfortable putting the ball on the floor and using his athleticism to get to the basket. Turner saw this skill set as Saunders climbed the ranks and into high school and knew that he had a special player on the way.
“Coming into this summer and fall with our off-season workouts, I had an epiphany that he might be the best player in the Sagamore Conference,” Turner said. “He started to really dominate those workouts and it was like a light bulb went on with him. I think in his younger years he shied away from contact,
but this year when he had a smaller guy on him he wanted the ball. This year was just a culmination of his skill meshing with his confidence and it all went right for him.”
Saunders was always at the top of every teams scouting report and rightfully so. Many teams would try to throw numerous defenses his way but Saunders always seemed to have answer. While most nights he was the focal point of the offense, Southmont surrounded him with great shooters in Logan Oppy, EJ Brewer, and Trip Ward. Fellow big man Carson Chadd would also be open in the paint if opposing team’s defenses paid too much attention to Saunders. The benefit of having great teammates combined with Saunder’s natural ability made the Mounties a very dangerous team all season long.
“Coach taught us to always look for the open shooter and many times I would be that open shooter,” Saunders said. Coach also has told me some ways that teams might play defense on me so I worked on ways to score on that kind of defense. During games I would do the things I worked on to score, if I don’t score and I get stopped I got a great teammates to find ways to score off me.”
Saunders will be remembered in Southmont basketball history as a player who helped lead his team to a history making season. While the individual accolades the he achieved throughout his career are special, it will always be the team that he remembers most.
“I just want people to remember us as the team with the best winning record ever at Southmont,” he said. “Also I want them to remember that we were the first team in Southmont history to win the sagamore conference, and only the second team to win a sectional. I’d also like to just remind the upcoming players that working as team will get you far.”
Turner along with calling Saunders the best player in the Sagamore Conference also has called him one of the best players he’s ever had the opportunity to coach. The bond between player and coach will always be there between Saunders and Turner.
“I want people to remember Avery for just simply how hard he worked and that if you want success you have to go out and earn it,” Turner said. “It’s never about what you think you that you deserve it’s what you earn and Avery is a testament to that. He made a lot of sacrifices to become the great basketball player that he is. Another thing I’ll remember about him is his personality. He was a really fun kid to be around and was charismatic and really easy to like, When you have guys like that who are also your best players, that encourages the younger guys to want to come in to be like him. I’m anxious to see what he is able to accomplish in his college career as he grows into a man.”
Saunders did recently commit to continue his career at Hanover last week so the journey while it may be over with the Mounties, Saunders is ready to begin a new chapter and continue to play the sport that he holds dear.
2022 BOYS BASKETBALL ALL-AREA TEAMS
Avery Saunders - SM
Ian Hensley - CHS
Logan Oppy - SM
Carson Chadd - SM
Will Harmon - FC
Alex Kellerman - CHS
Ziair Morgan - CHS
Jakob Kirsch - NM
Jarrod Kirsch - NM
Mekhi Wallace - CHS