By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
The southern region of West Virginia was chock-full of boys basketball talent in 2013, but only one could be named the Register-Herald Boys Player of the Year.
Summers County’s TaRon Ayers won the award, narrowly defeating Shady Spring’s Chase Connor and Woodrow Wilson’s Donte Nabors, who finished tied for second place.
Ayers was the state’s leading scorer, averaging 27.5 points per game.
“TaRon’s an offensive machine,” now retired Bobcats coach James “Pistol” Payne said. “You can’t keep him from getting shots.”
Ayers transferred to Summers County this season from Woodrow Wilson to be closer to his family — brother Jaquan Ayers and cousins TJ Smith and Isaiah Brown.
“It was a memorable season for me,” Ayers said. “This is where my family’s from, and to get to play here was a big thing for me.”
Ayers utilized a slashing and dashing offense, penetrating defenses for acrobatic buckets in the transition, while also having a deadly outside scoring game.
“Taron is very quick. He’s a great penetrator,” Payne said. “He looks to get others involved as much as possible, but if we’ve made a couple trips down the court without a bucket, he’s going to pick up the slack and put the ball in himself.”
In Ayers’ first game in black and orange, he scored 35 points and dished out six assists against Covington, Va.
In his first time playing in front of the Hinton crowd, he went head-to-head with fellow player of the year candidate Chase Connor and the Shady Spring Tigers. He scored 32 points in a 72-67 victory. Connor finished with 20.
Ayers only had good things to say about battling it out with his rival Connor.
“Chase is a great player. I have so much respect for him and his game,” Ayers said. “He’s a great shooter. He always plays hard. When you’re going against him, it’s going to be a show.”
Connor wasn’t the only candidate TaRon spoke highly of. He had something to say about all four of his fellow nominees.
“I played at open gym with Keith Mullins,” Ayers said. “He’s so tough. He plays hard and is one of the best shooters around.
“It was fun playing with Donte at Woodrow,” Ayers continued. “He’s a great player. I wish him and all of Woodrow the best in the future.”
Nabors isn’t the only teammate of Ayers on the list. Rondale Watson will be joining Ayers on the East Coast Fusion AAU team this summer.
While Summers County may not have had the season that Woodrow Wilson, Greater Beckley or Greenbrier East had, it was a successful season according to Payne. The Bobcats finished with a 12-10 record, but it was the improvement of the team, thanks to the presence of “T-Rex”, that impressed the longtime Summers coach.
“Last year, we pretty much had the same team and averaged 50.9 points per game. This season, we averaged 66 points per game. What does that tell ya?” Payne said.
The transition to working Ayers into the lineup and how it would change the chemistry of the Bobcats worried Payne.
“I was concerned about it (chemistry),” Payne said. “That was my only big concern, because we had a good nucleus with Isaiah (Brown),TJ (Smith) and Josh Graham.”
It was the improvement of the players around Ayers that proved to Payne that he had something special.
“Isaiah accepted a diminished role from last year,” he said. “He was happier and playing better while doing less while TaRon picked up the pace.”
Brown wasn’t the only player Ayers made better. Smith went from averaging11.5 points per game in 2012 to averaging 18.6 points per game with Ayers in the lineup.
“I knew TaRon had tremendous upside. It was great to have him in Summers County. The only thing I would change is I wish we would have had him for one more season,” Payne said.
In fact, the junior has played his final game in a Bobcats uniform. Facing concerns about eligibility requirements in 2014 due to age, Ayers has chosen to end his time at Summers County and continue his career at a yet to be decided prep school.
“It was tough,” Ayers said on making the decision. “They (WVSSAC) didn’t rule me ineligible for next season, but my family and I thought it would be great for me to go to a prep school and get better.”
Payne echoed those sentiments.
“I think it’s a real good move for him,” he said. “I think it’s what he needs to do. There’s no telling how good TaRon can be. It’s so easy for him. It’s really hard to tell.”
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While Ayers narrowly won the sports writer’s vote for player of the year, it was Connor who ran away with the fan’s choice, as voted on Twitter and e-mail.
— E-mail: jrollins