It’s not every year that the best player in the state shows up for the North-South All-Star Basketball Classic. In fact, over the last seven years, four did not play for various reasons.
But don’t count Jon Elmore among the no-shows.
The George Washington graduate and VMI recruit was geared up for the chance to compete in tonight’s game at 7:30 at the South Charleston Community Center.
“The North-South game has great tradition behind it,’’ Elmore said before the South practice Thursday, “and it’s had great players throughout the years playing. I’m just lucky to be invited and have the opportunity to play in it.’’
The 6-foot-3 Elmore, who led all West Virginia players in scoring average last season at 31.4 points per game, is one of only three first-team Class AAA all-state athletes in the North-South contest. He tallied a school-record 815 points last season in helping GW reach the state tournament, where the Patriots fell to eventual champion Huntington despite 40 points from Elmore.
Starting in 2007, the North-South game wasn’t always an automatic option for the Bill Evans Award winner as the state’s player of the year. That’s the year in which the Huntington duo of O.J. Mayo (2007 winner) and Patrick Patterson (2006 winner as a junior) both didn’t play.
Two years later, SC’s Aaron Dobson was unavailable — he was competing on the USA’s Junior National football team in Canton, Ohio. The following season (2010), Logan’s Noah Cottrill wasn’t excused by West Virginia University officials, where he was taking summer school classes.
Elmore said he had no such obstacles, and plans to depart for VMI summer school on Sunday.
Perhaps if Elmore had missed the game, it might have balanced out the rosters. As it is, the South appears to have an advantage in manpower.
Including Elmore, the South has the services of nine Class AAA players, compared to the North’s four. It would have been 10-4 if injured Riverside standout Tyus Wood (wrist) was able to go.
The South can floor talent such as Huntington’s Arick Nicks, Woodrow Wilson’s Donte’ Nabors and Capital’s Carrington Morris — all proven scorers. And the roster could have been even stronger.
On Thursday, the South found out that Greenbrier East all-state guard Rondale Watson, a Wake Forest recruit, was not permitted to play. A Wake compliance officer relayed the news to North-South officials. His spot on the squad was filled by East teammate Josh Tunstalle.
Elmore could see the talent level even as his South teammates warmed up Thursday prior to practice at the Charleston Catholic Athletic Facility.
“Looking at the rosters,’’ he said, “and knowing many of the guys from around the state — and especially more from the southern part of the state — we look to be loaded this year. We should have a really good team.’’
The North may need to rely on its inside punch against the guard-oriented South. A big scoring option for the North is 6-foot-4 John Riley of Lewis County (23.2).
Just like the South, the North lost some firepower at a late date when first-team all-staters C.J. Burks (Hedgesville) and Trevon Wesco (Musselman) pulled out of the game.
“That really hurt us when those two kids couldn’t make it,’’ said Tom Gutshall of Tucker County, one of the North’s coaches along with Washington’s Don Bullett.
“But you never know in all-star games. You want the young men to have a good time and come out and play. We’re hoping to be competitive for sure.’’
Even though the South leads the series 25-6 since the rivalry resumed in 1983, seldom is the game a blowout. In fact, only once in the past 14 games has a team won by 20 or more points — that being a North 112-89 victory in 2009. The North has won three of the last seven contests.
“We go into every game feeling like we have a shot,’’ Gutshall said, “and we have some good kids here that will play. A lot of it may come down to playing defense. In these all-star games, a lot of kids don’t play defense.’’
Elmore was asked if great expectations for the South might be too much to handle.
“Not too much,’’ he said. “I think our guys are good enough to where we’ll be able to handle the pressure, and we’ll be just fine.’’
Interestingly, all four coaches working tonight’s game — Gutshall and Bullett for the North and Bill McClanahan (Charleston Catholic) and Pat McGinnis (Winfield) of the South — resigned their positions following last season.
The pregame skills events (free throws, 3-pointers, slam dunk) are set to begin at 6. The West Virginia Athletic Directors Association, which sponsors the game, will also award a $500 college scholarship to one player from each team.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.