With another year of high school basketball in the books, it's time to unveil the annual All-Banner boys basketball team.
Scouring the area to highlight the best of the best, the Banner has looked at the statistics and yearly awards handed out and talked with coaches from the area to come up with this year's team.
While averages and awards play a part in who makes the team, they are only one part of the process. The influence a player has on the game, views from different coaches in the area and our own eye tests help to solidify the list.
With all of that considered, here is the list for the 2013-2014 All-Banner team.
Most Valuable Player
Jr., Burr and Burton
In his junior year at Burr and Burton, Joey Shehadi took the expectations he had coming into the season and shattered them.
Shehadi, who led the Bulldogs to a 20-0 regular season and got the team within four points of the Division I finals, was a threat to score from any spot on the court. Whether he was making three-quarters court buzzer-beaters, three-point daggers or silky moves to the basket, Shehadi had no equal, and that's why he's been named as the All-Banner Player of the Year.
"Boy, he caused a dilemma," said MAU coach Dan Sleeman. "You can't pick him up soon enough. Literally, [as] the ball comes off the rim from your miss, you're like, ‘someone get on him!' Usually, you wait until they get into the half court.
Shehadi averaged a stunning 20.7 points per game this season, the highest individual effort in the area.
Not that Shehadi only focused on scoring, though.
The junior, who was chosen for the Vermont Basketball Coaches Association's Dream Dozen in Division I/II, was second on the team in rebounding at 5.4 per contest, first in steals at 2.1 swipes per game and second in assists at 3.5 per outing.
"We knew he was going to have a good year," said his coach, and father, Dave Shehadi. "As we started to win and got into the meat of the schedule, that was when he really stepped up and played really focused, high quality basketball."
The meaty stretch spanned from Jan. 28 against Brattleboro to Feb. 10 against Mount Anthony, where the Bulldogs played home-and-aways with both sides along with Rutland. He dropped 24 points on Brattleboro to start, followed up with 28 against the Red Raiders, then posted back-to-back 31-point efforts against MAU and the Colonels. He then finished the stretch with a 24-point outburst against the Patriots. In the playoffs, Shehadi averaged 24 points over three games, and had a 22-point, 11-rebound effort against MAU in the D-I quarterfinals.
"This was after he had already proven himself. Teams were dialing in to stop him," Shehadi said. "What he did [in those games], it just tells the story."
In total, Shehadi posted double digits in 20 of the team's 22 games. In 12 of those games, he cracked the 20-point plateau and had four games with 30 or more.
"He was the total package," Sleeman said. "He was a handful. To think he still has his senior year ahead of him is scary."
For coach Shehadi, what impressed about Joey the most wasn't just his on-court exploits. It was his approach leading into a game.
"I was most impressed about how focused and prepared he came to the floor every night," Shehadi said. "He took a lot of hits but he just played through it. If we didn't have Joe, we would have had a different season."
Jr., Hoosick Falls
When Hoosick Falls junior Mark Hackett steps onto a basketball court, it's easy to assume that the star football player would be a bruiser on the interior. That, in a sense, is where Hackett's greatest strength lies. Hackett led the 19-2 Panthers with 13.3 points per game this season, with the majority of his points coming from the three-point line as Hackett knocked down 46 triples this season.
"He has a nice, soft touch. You wouldn't think that by looking at him," said Hoosick Falls coach Mike Lilac. "His form is nice and simple, no crazy herky-jerky.
"There was no luck [to Hackett's shooting]," Lilac added. "He comes down all the time. Whenever he can get in here, he is getting shots up."
Hackett, though, used his frame to his advantage on the boards, finishing second on the team with 126 rebounds on the year, six per contest, and he also had 36 steals, good for second, and 53 assists on the season. Hackett was also selected as a First Team member for the Wasaren League all-stars.
Hackett posted double-digit scoring nights 16 times this season, including 18 and 19-point performances against Mount Anthony, 19 points against Argyle and 12 points on the road against Class C state champ Hoosic Valley.
Burr and Burton coach Dave Shehadi, who has seen Hackett play since he was young, said that "Hackett, it wasn't only him, but he was the guy that could step back and shoot it."
Jr., Hoosick Falls
A lot went into Hoosick Falls' undefeated Wasaren League season this year, but the driving force behind the Panthers' year was 5'9" junior Andrew Hoag. Playing the point for Hoosick Falls this season, averaged 10.4 points per game while leading the team in rebounding (182), assists (132) and steals (43). Hoag finished the year with only 57 turnovers, giving him nearly a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"He had the keys to the car out there. He was everything you could ask for in a point guard," his coach, Mike Lilac, said. "I never expected him to get that many rebounds. He has a nose for the ball."
A First Team member on the Wasaren League all-stars, Hoag could serve in whatever fashion the Panthers needed. The junior had nine games in single digits this season, focusing instead on rebound and passing the ball around, but in some of the team's biggest moments Hoag was there to score. He posted 24 against Schuylerville early in the season, 21 in a 60-43 win over Greenwich midway through the year, 16 against Section II, Class C runner-up Lake George and in the team's clinching game for a perfect league record against Hoosic Valley, Hoag posted 17 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Asked to give his assesment of Hoag, MAU coach Dan Sleeman said "he was the one who made them tick. I thought he was their floor general. He was a big part of them being successful."
Jr., Burr and Burton
Junior Conor Harrington was a match-up nightmare for opposing teams of Burr and Burton this season. While gifted with the height of a big man, Harrington was just as comfortable working out near the three-point line as he was in the post and he used his inside-outside game to devastating effect, posting 10.5 points per game, 6.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 2.7 assists this season.
"He is a very good shooter for a big guy," said BBA coach Dave Shehadi. "He is calm when he gets the ball, he relaxes. We run some sets that are 1-4 high and we go to him. He had some beautiful backdoor passes, he has vision."
Harrington's defining game this season came early on. With BBA at 8-0 entering its first D-I game of the season at Rutland, Harrington had nine points, eight rebounds and five blocks to help the team to a 3-point win that set the tone for the rest of the year.
"I thought he played his best game [against Rutland]," Shehadi said. "That was a big win for us early in the season."
Harrington also posted monster rebounding games in back-to-back D-I contests, hauling down 11 in a win over Brattleboro on Jan. 28 and following it up with a 10-point, 13-rebound effort over Rutland.
Harrington was voted to the Marble Valley League ‘A' Division First Team.
"I think he is a smart player. He passes well, he shoots well," Shehadi said. "He is a great athlete and a great kid."
Sr., Mount Anthony
The lone senior on the All-Banner First Team, Mount Anthony's Sean Brundage earned his spot this year in part to his incredible shooting stroke. But the senior added a new aspect to his game in his third season on varsity, and his coach, Dan Sleeman, thought it made all the difference for the 12-10 Patriots.
"His ability to knock down a shot has been his strength, but it was his ability to get to the hoop," said Sleeman. "It made him a non-one dimensional player."
Scoring 351 points this season (nearly 16 points a game), Brundage also added a rebounding element to his game, finishing second on the team with 118 rebounds, including 47 on offense, while also finishing second in steals with 33.
"The thing is, sophomore, junior, senior year, he consistently got better," Sleeman said. "As a coach, you love to see that."
Brundage was a Marble Valley League ‘A' Division First-Team selection and also made the VBCA senior squad. With 620 career points, Brundage finished as the 20th all-time leading scorer at MAU. Season highlights include 29-point outburst in a road win over Mill River and 23 points in an overtime win over Monument Mountain.
"I think that it was [his] senior year, stepping up and kind of leading by example," Sleeman said. "He was a true, pure shooter."
"He is a class act," said BBA coach Dave Shehadi. "He is a guy who can score 25, 30 points on you in a heartbeat and he does it within the structure of their offense. I was really impressed with him."
A four-year player at Arlington, DJ Jennings finished his illustrious career as an Eagle this year by topping the 1,000-point barrier.
Jennings averaged 16.4 points per game this season on a 3-18 Arlington side. While the results were not as favorable for Jennings in his final year as an Eagle, coach Chris Taft said that Jennings was a positive influence on a young Arlington team.
"It was a struggle compared to the year before," Taft said. "We made the trip to Barre (for the semifinals) last year. But he stayed positive throughout the year. I think a lot of kids learned from him.
"He has been a cornerstone for the program for four years. I would argue he is one of the best rebounders in the state at the D-IV level."
Jennings' biggest performance of the year came against Black River, the game in which he scored his 1,000th point. Jennings posted 38 in the game to give Arlington its most resounding win of the year. In all, Jennings cracked 20 points seven times this season, including a 22-point game against Division IV runner-up Rochester. Jennings was also selected to the Marble Valley League ‘D' Division First Team.
"He has always been having kids draped on him. That is tough for a kid to really grasp," Taft said. "He gets hit and it doesn't even affect him. He takes a beating on the court [but] he has always had a real positive attitude and always battled.
Jr., Hoosick Falls
When the season heated up for Hoosick Falls, Austin Pitt was only getting started. Over the final 10 games of the season, the senior cracked double digits in scoring eight times and, in a crunch end of the year stretch, Pitt posted 18 on the road Stillwater, 15 against Hoosic Valley to clinch the Panthers' undefeated Wasaren League season, and 20 against Mount Anthony to avenge the team's only regular season loss.
"As the year went on, especially as we saw more zone than man, our best spot against a zone was right in the paint near that foul line in Austin's hands," said Hoosick Falls coach Mike Lilac. "When we did that, good things usually happened."
Pitt averaged 12.4 points per game this season, racked up 110 rebounds, 48 assists and 26 steals, and led the team in field goal percentage, shooting 54 percent from the floor.
Pitt also drew the heavy defensive responsibilities, guarding the other team's best perimeter player night in, night out for the Panthers, including guarding Hoosic Valley's Mike Pierre, the Wasaren League MVP, in both wins.
Jr., Burr and Burton
Tyeshawn Gadson knew how to find the basket for Burr and Burton this season, with the junior second on the team with 12.8 points per contest. But where Gadson improved the most this season came on the defensive end.
"His perimeter defense was more consistent [this year]," said BBA coach Dave Shehadi. "He worked harder on defense. He was second in steals, that was good for us."
Gadson recorded 38 steals this season -- just under two a game. He also knew how to do it in big spots. In the Division I quarterfinals against Mount Anthony, Gadson had four steals to help power the Bulldogs past their southern rival. In the state semifinals, Gadson's two steals in the second half helped spark a run that got BBA back into the game against Mount Mansfield. It was only when Gadson fouled out of the contest that MMU looked comfortable enough to win the game.
"He is lightning quick. He has a good left hand, got to the rim well, shot well," Shehadi said. "He and Joey [Shehadi] make a heck of a backcourt."
Jr., Burr and Burton
If you were to hand out roles to the player on the Burr and Burton team, junior Taylor Muench would get the "all of the above" role.
The junior did a little bit of everything for the Bulldogs this season, averaging a shade under 10 points per game while also hauling in 4.3 rebounds per contest and dishing out 2.1 assists.
"One area [Muench] really improved in was his ability to rebound the ball," said BBA coach Dave Shehadi. "He is a very good athlete. He can run and jump, and he is long."
Muench also had a penchant for getting deflections on defense, a stat that doesn't always show up in a box score but helped the team to average almost nine steals per game. Muench could also get out in transition for the Bulldogs, and his finishing ability around the rack made him a prime target for passes from his teammates.
"I thought his energy, his ability to finish at the rim and his ability to get out on the break were key for us," Shehadi said. "I thought he was a good defensive player for us."
Soph., Mount Anthony
Mount Anthony coach Dan Sleeman knew that he wanted to give minutes to Champagne this year after the sophomore got a taste of varsity action as a freshman. Champagne took full advantage and became one of the Patriots' go-to players by the end of the year.
"I thought he made tremendous progress this year. I forget sometimes that he is just a sophomore," said Sleeman, who cited Champagne's leadership quality as remarkable for an underclassman.
Champagne averaged 8.5 points per game this season and hauled in 68 rebounds, but Sleeman noted Champagne's passing ability as a key trait.
"I thought he was at his best when he clearly came out and was attacking the hoop," Sleeman said. "He was good at finding the open man. He was always willing to make the extra pass, passing off of his dribble-penetration."
Champagne finished 34 assists, the best of any wing player for the Patriots, and also had 26 steals.
"He has the physical tools, he can very well do some damage here in Vermont as an inside-outside guy," Sleeman said. "His upside is huge."
Sr., Mount Anthony
In his senior season, Hao Guo came into his own as a Mount Anthony Patriot. Tasked with running the show for the first unit, Guo posted his best numbers on varsity averaging 8.6 points per game, while also dishing out 51 assists, second on the team, and swiping a team-leading 49 steals in 22 games.
"Hao did a little bit of everything," said coach Dan Sleeman. "If he doesn't contribute in all the different ways he did this year, we clearly don't have a winning season. He is just a huge, huge part of everything that we did."
Guo also knew how to get a rebound, leading all guards with 80 rebounds on the year, 41 of them coming on the offensive glass.
"He may have had some nights where the shots didn't go down, but boy, the energy with which he played with was contagious for the rest of his teammates," Sleeman said.