A year ago, Sullivan County forward Conner Wylie emerged as a District 4 breakthrough player.
This year, Wylie simply has become one of District 4's best players. The senior has become a model of consistency, and good luck finding many post players with a better overall game.
A steady contributor throughout his scholastic career, Wylie has become the centerpiece at Sullivan in his final season and is a big reason the Griffins (12-4) are playoff-bound for a fourth straight year despite losing four quality starters from a 23-win team.
"I have a lot of confidence in Conner on both ends of the floor," Sullivan coach Glenn Vaughan said. "We haven't played against a big man this year that I've thought is better than him."
Wylie is among area leaders in scoring (17.7 ppg) and rebounds (11.1 rpg) and averages a double-double. He opened the season with 37 rebounds at the Towanda Tournament and has recorded 12 double-doubles in 16 games. He also has scored in double figures in all but one game.
It is the latest step forward for a player who has been instrumental to Sullivan having the greatest run in its program history. He was an outstanding sixth man on the 2012 District 4 Class A champions and the leading scorer and rebounder on last year's district runner-up which reached the state tournament's second round for a second consecutive season.
Dr. Masse's Top 5 rankings
1. Loyalsock (14-1)
The Lancers are as close as they are talented and that is an important x-factor for the two-time defending District 4 Class AA champions. Kyle Datres, Omar Little, Mike Pastore, Tommy Baggett and Ben Sosa have played together most of their lives and that cohesiveness is especially big in tough games like the one against South. That also helped them win three road games in five nights last week, all by double digits.
"We're best friends outside of basketball, outside of school. We have an ongoing group text message and we're always talking," Baggett said. "The chemistry is definitely helping us out a lot."
2. St. John
The Knights recorded one of their most impressive wins Saturday, defeating Patterson Mill, Md., 52-46. Patterson Mill basically is a Class AAAA school with more than 1,000 students but Neumann led from start to finish. Freshman guard Kevin Anderson showed how dangerous he can be and scored a game-high 17 points. Keep an eye on 6-foot-8 Amanze Njoku-Ibe too, who has played just three organized games but who can be a big difference maker. He had nine points and five rebounds and combines with all-state center Alize Johnson (15 points, 23 rebounds) to give Neumann one of the most imposing front lines around.
3. Lewisburg (14-1)
The Green Dragons had a week off before playing Mount Carmel Saturday but did not appear rusty, romping to an impressive 65-33 win in a district quarterfinal rematch. Will Sigl, a 6-8 senior, has elevated his performance in his first year starting and nearly had a double-double in that game. Lewisburg is starting to develop some solid depth too and Tanner Host scored a season-high 10 points in that win. The Dragons are a buzzer-beater from being 15-0 and are off to one of the best starts in program history.
4. S. Williamsport (11-4)
The Mounties are one of the season's most improved teams. All but one player is back from last year's six-win team and they have pulled close together while staying within a game of Neumann in the race for the HAC-III championship.
"People didn't know where they fit in but with everyone returning except Alex Kita everybody found their role this year," English said. "Everyone is contributing really well."
5. Sullivan County (12-4)
The Griffins recorded their biggest win of the season Saturday, going on the road and thumping Muncy, 52-36. Sullivan avenged a previous defeat and showed why it remains a strong district title contender. Guard Sean Flannery broke out of a slump and scored a career-high 19 points while Adam Szklanka added 15. Flannery, Szklanka and Bob Polcrack all are good outside shooters and when they are on, Sullivan is especially tough as it opens up the inside for Wylie.
Player of the Week
Trent Risley, Bucktail
The senior has been instrumental to Bucktail's resurgence and scored 50 points in wins over Millville and Canton. Risley scored a career-high 26 points in a big win at Millville and has helped Bucktail (7-8) remain in the playoff hunt despite having just two starters back from last year.
Game of the Week
Sullivan County at
St. John Neumann
Saturday's game is the latest installment of District 4 Class A's best rivalry over the last three seasons. The rivals have split the last two district titles, winning thrillers against each other and both reached the state tournament's second round the last two seasons. The first game earlier this month was another dandy with Neumann edging Sullivan, 45-42. Expect another great one Saturday.
All that did was motivate Wylie to get better. The last two years were nice, but Wylie quickly went back to work to try and make this last one his best.
"From a freshman to now, he has made tremendous strides. He works hard," South Williamsport coach Matt Fisher said following last Tuesday's 49-38 win over Sullivan. "He's always working in the summer. (Tuesday) he put some moves on some guys and did some things that quite frankly I didn't know he was capable of doing. He understands he's the guy for Sullivan and does it with a lot of confidence. He's a real nice player."
Wylie had 18 points, 15 rebounds and three steals against South last week. The Mounties focused a lot of attention on him, but Wylie used his strength, array of moves and deceptive quickness to have another big game. He has nice touch around the basket, can hit the mid-range jumper, unleash a hook shot and split two defenders with a nice reverse layup. Wylie also is tough to move underneath the basket and has established himself as one of the strongest players around.
The senior entered the season knowing that if Sullivan was to build on its recent success, he had to come up big. Wylie has delivered.
"Conner has worked hard the last few seasons not only on improving basketball skills but also increasing strength and through the early part of the season got himself into great basketball shape," Vaughan said. "He's the one guy on our basketball team that has been a starter before so he knows what it takes to show up every night and play hard and the other guys are kind of still in the learning process."
That is why Wylie not only has been one of the area's best players, but also one of its most valuable. If not for Wylie's production and leadership, Sullivan might be fighting for its playoff life. Instead, the Griffins are back in the title mix and have another chance to enhance the program's growing tradition.
Wylie knows what it takes to be a champion. He knows what it takes to be an elite player. He proves it every day.
"He's certainly the calmest voice of reason on our team right now because of his experience and he's been one of the guys who's not been afraid to talk on the floor since he's been in 9th grade," Vaughan said. "I've seen him for so many years now and he's proven himself over the last three years. This year he's done nothing but solidify that if he's not the best (post player) than that he is one of the best."
South Williamsport is playoff-bound a year after finishing 6-16. The Mounties (11-4) clinched their playoff berth, defeating Benton, 61-44, Saturday. South still has a shot at winning a HAC-III championship, too, trailing St. John Neumann by just one game.
The team's depth has been key to this big turnaround. Eric English, Tyler Schonewolf and Sean McCormick have been coming up big off the bench and are providing South with one of the area's deepest rotations. Those three especially came up big against Sullivan County and two-time defending District 4 Class AA champion Loyalsock last Thursday.
That trio combined for 24 points and both English and Schonewolf scored in double figures against Loyalsock. McCormick was outstanding, too, making five steals and adding four assists. Against Benton, those three combined for 25 more points.
"A couple boys got into foul trouble and when he (Fisher) substituted they didn't miss a beat," Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. "That's a credit to Matt's entire program. The word on the street perhaps had been they don't have the depth but they do. They proved that to us."
English sparked the game's pivotal run against Sullivan and Schonewolf was tough inside, scoring six third-quarter points against South. The trio of reserves gives Fisher the luxury of substituting freely without worrying about any significant drop-off. It also allows South's starters to go all-out all the time, knowing the reserves are there to back them up.
That is a huge asset because South remains fresh each game. As the season continues and the games grow more intense that depth could continue paying big dividends.
"If you watch South Williamsport this year and walk in and out at random intervals you couldn't tell whether our starting five or our three guys off the bench we're on the floor," Fisher said. "I'm so proud of the way our guys have come in and kept up the consistent play and the consistent effort."
Wellsboro clinched another District 4 Class AA berth last week, routing both Canton and Williamson. The Green Hornets (12-4) have won six straight feature one of the most balanced scoring attacks in the area. All five starters are averaging in or near double figures and Mike Pietropola scored 41 points in last week's wins ... North Penn is one of the area's most improved teams and is just two wins from clinching its first playoff berth since 2010 a year after going 3-19. The Panthers (9-6) won twice last week and Dayton Wood scored a career-high 27 points in Friday's 68-40 win over Cowanesque Valley while Kaynan Arredondo added a double-double and six blocks ... Mansfield (12-5) clinched its sixth straight playoff berth and remained tied for first in the NTL Small School Division with surging Sayre. Bo Burleigh scored 48 points and grabbed 26 rebounds in the two wins ... Warrior Run (4-9) has shown nice progress this season and has won two straight. Zack Miller, Callen Foresman and Lance Pealer all are averaging more than nine points per game.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse for more high school basketball information.