Lancers’ Wilson goes out strong

POTTSVILLE – Playing against a big front line Saturday, Roger Wilson stood tall. Time after time he made big plays.

Minutes after a heartbreaking Class AA state quarterfinal loss, Wilson continued standing tall, continued playing big. His scholastic career over, Wilson emerged from the Loyalsock locker room head held high before politely answering a reporter’s questions.

It was one last enduring image of a player who transformed himself into the model teammate and person this season. Wilson scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Saturday’s 73-68 overtime loss to Trinity at Martz Hall. The way he conducted himself during and after the game captured who he has become.

“I felt for the most part Roger was the best player on the court,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “The good thing is and what I’m so proud of is the intelligence he showed after picking up his second foul.”

That happened midway through the first quarter after Loyalsock built a 9-0 lead. In years past that would have spelled doom. Wilson was a mercurial player back then and could take himself out of a game as quick as he had started taking it over.

Wilson played great down the stretch last year, but still teetered at times when it came to composure. Insinger also questioned his work ethic at times.

When the first practice opened last November a new Wilson walked into Loyalsock’s gym. The team’s lone senior starter suddenly was directing his teammates, relentlessly working and guiding the way. Everything he did, Wilson did with gusto while displaying impressive poise.

Some skeptics remained but they became few and far between once games started. By season’s end they were gone.

Ahead or behind, scoring or picking up a foul, Wilson never lost his focus. He always was in control, the epitome of calm. Wilson had become Loyalsock’s foundation, its rock. He was an unshakable force.

A dominant center, Wilson averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. Time after time he hit big shots and made big plays. All the while, he was the one settling everyone. Wilson was the one talking to teammates and future Lancers, telling them and showing them how to do things.

Saturday, he did it one last time.

Wilson took over in the second half and nearly helped will Loyalsock to another state tournament win. He scored 11 second-half points, made all three of his fourth-quarter shots and drained 6 of 7 foul shots. And he never changed his emotions or approach after the early fouls.

“He played cautiously but very optimistically. He did good things,” Insinger said. “He didn’t hurt us even though he had the fouls.”

“We knew going in that the key was to try and stop him,” Trinity guard Dylan DeFrank said.

Yet the perennial power could not. Despite 6-5 Josh Trumpy and 6-4 Brandon Kuntz being versatile, strong and athletic post players, Wilson sparked a 17-6 third-quarter run after Trinity had opened a seven-point lead. He did so after picking up his third foul in the second-half’s opening minute. Wilson picked up his fourth foul early in the fourth quarter but continued playing smart and aggressive, trusting his help-side defense and smartly going for blocks and rebounds.

Wilson scored seven fourth-quarter points and his last foul shot put Loyalsock up 60-55 with 1:55 remaining. The Lancers were one second from reaching the state semifinals for the first time in 18 years and Wilson was a huge reason why. Take Wilson away and Loyalsock never would have been playing at all yesterday.

Loyalsock is a fantastic team that won more games than all but two teams in program history. Wilson was the one who made it all go.

“The kid is a great player and his career is not done yet by far. He’s going to go play in college somewhere,” Trinity guard Dominick Antonelli said. “He’s an unbelievable player. He can rebound, he can shoot, he’s a great foul shooter and he finishes around the rim. He’s not done at all.”

Antonelli is right. Insinger said Wilson is receiving some strong Division III interest. Lycoming, Susquehanna and Messiah all are in the running.

As outstanding as Wilson has played, that interest would not be there had he not transformed himself as a person. Those who do not believe in the power of sports building character need only look at Wilson to realize how wrong they are. Wilson always had the talent, but now he has all the intangibles too. He became one of Loyalsock’s best leaders in the 21st century and his picture soon might be hanging on the wall outside the team’s gym, alongside other all-state athletes.

As long as he continues coaching, Insinger can always point at that picture. That the state’s all-time leader in wins can show players what becoming a well-rounded, hard-working, stellar teammate can do.

“I would say my future teams will be sick of hearing of Roger Wilson,” Insinger said. “I will be throwing that name out whenever there is an attitude or someone loses their composure. I’m going to bring up the Roger Wilson story and hopefully they’ll hear it and listen to it and abide by it.”

What a story it is.