WHEELING - As teammates gathered in the Wheeling Park coaches office Thursday to listen to their female counterparts compete in the first round of the state tournament on the radio, the conversation, as it inevitably always does, turned to the boys' player of the year award. Patriots senior Boo Lathon shot that talk down immediately, and reiterated what he's been saying all season - the only hardware he cares about is the West Virginia Class AAA state championship trophy.
Now he has the opportunity to take home both.
In what was a one-sided vote, Lathon has been selected by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association as the 2011-2012 recipient of the Bill Evans Award, which is given annually to the top boys' basketball player in the state. Shady Spring's Chase Connor finished a distant second, with Stevie Browning of Logan, Nathan Adrian of Morgantown and Garrett Grantham of Jefferson rounding out the top 5.
Wheeling Park’s Boo Lathon ran away with the Evans Award.
File Photo by Josh Strope
''They told me I could get it, but I never thought it would happen,'' Lathon said. ''That means so much.
''I'm just stunned right now.''
Somewhat surprisingly, Lathon becomes just the second winner from tradition-laden Wheeling Park, joining Rafael Cruz, who took home the award in 1997. Myron Ray (1986) and Anthony Reed (1989) are Patriots to have received the Gatorade Player of the Year Award, while Tony Long (1980) and Shane Mallett (1995) were recognized by the now-defunct Morgantown Touchdown Club.
''We've had a lot of good players - 18 or 19 first team all-staters,'' Park coach Michael Jebbia, himself honored as such, said. ''This is really the main (award) because it comes from the sports writers.
''It's a great honor. He's had a special season, and also our team success I think probably plays into it. If we don't win 14 of 15 and make the state tournament, maybe this turns out differently.''
Lathon, a 6-foot-2 wing, wasn't an immediate star at Wheeling Park. He had to bide his time for two years behind players the caliber of Bubby Goodwin, Marqez O'Neal and Richard Hall, just to name a few.
In fact, Jebbia remembers people questioning why Lathon wasn't in the starting lineup during his sophomore season.
''We had a good team in 2010 and he was still on junior varsity,'' Jebbia said. ''He took over JV and had 30, 32 points, and that helped him his junior, senior years.
''Last year he was kind of the third option. This year, those guys knew.''
Now, so does the state.
Lathon, a third team all-state pick last season, is averaging 19.8 points and 10.4 rebounds a game heading into an 11:15 a.m. Wednesday showdown with Hedgesville in the the quarterfinals of the state tournament at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum. He is the first Patriot to average a double-double since Hall of Famer Durran Goodwin pulled it off in 2001.
''It's just a really good feeling, and I couldn't do it without my teammates,'' Lathon said. ''The seven seniors, no matter what, we're always going to be together.
''My main focus is just winning this championship.''
Lathon recorded 15 double-doubles this season and hit 25 shots from 3-point range. He had 22 points and 18 rebounds in a road victory against then-No. 1 South Charleston, one night after the Patriots had beaten then-No. 2 Morgantown, likewise on the road.
''When Coach (Sam) Andy was here, he played a tough schedule and we wanted to continue that,'' Jebbia said. ''We don't have to play South Charleston, Logan, George Washington and Zanesville, but it's good for our school.''
Lathon's best effort was a 34-point, 20-rebound explosion in a sectional semifinal victory against University. Both of those were career highs.
''The kids love him at school - he's got friends in all the grade levels,'' Jebbia said. ''He's a good kid and that comes from his mom and dad being really good people.
''Whether he plays college football or basketball, somebody is going to get themselves a pretty good student-athlete.''