Conner Wylie and Lucas Hatton provided depth a season ago. The forward and guard, respectively, were the top two players off the bench and did a lot of the little things that went unnoticed but helped Sullivan win the first league and District 4 Class A championships in program history.
They are not going unnoticed this year.
Wylie and Hatton are starters now. More importantly, they are much better players. After being role players, Wylie and Hatton are developing into prime-time players. And that is one reason Sullivan keeps on rolling.
Wylie is averaging nearly a double-double every game, and Hatton is providing his usual swarming defense, in addition to improved offense, helping Sullivan start 5-0 for a second consecutive year. They were terrific in last Tuesday's 78-53 win at South Williamsport and ignited a dominant overall team performance.
"We had four graduating seniors last year and I was just kind of there as the sixth, seventh man off the bench. In the offseason I was fighting through my ankle hurting but I was definitely trying to put in the time I could and you could tell everyone was," Hatton said. "It's nice to be in the mix now with everyone who has been playing for a while."
"Everybody has been in the gym a lot of hours," Wylie said. "Coach (Glenn) Vaughan has made a lot of summer games for us against tough competition from and he has really improved us over the summer."
Dr. Masse's Top 5 Boys Teams
1. Williamsport (7-0)
The Millionaires did not play their best last week, but they gutted out come-from-behind wins over Pottsville and Wyoming Valley West and are averaging 23 fourth-quarter points per game, signs of championship teams. Now the defending district champions face a challenging five-game stretch that includes three in Elmira this week against strong out of state teams. After the winter break, Williamsport plays Harrisburg in a rematch of last year's state tournament thriller and Westside Christian out of Detroit.
"These next five games are going to be very challenging," coach Allen Taylor said. "This is going to tell us a whole lot about our team and give us an idea on what we need to work on to prepare for that state run."
2. Loyalsock (5-0)
The Lancers thumping Southern Friday and then going on the road to Shikellamy and beating a solid Class AAA team 75-42 less than 20 hours later was impressive. Instead of looking tired or lethargic, the Lancers stormed out against a 2012 district finalist and built an 18-point first-quarter lead. Roger Wilson is having a terrific season so far and recorded his fifth straight double-double in the win. Wilson is averaging 15.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.
3. Lewisburg (5-0)
The Green Dragons are off to their best start in more than a decade and defense is a big reason why. Lewisburg has held four teams to 36 points or fewer and allowed only 66 in convincing HAC-II wins over Hughesville and Mount Carmel last week. Erich Kline and Sam Allen are providing a nice inside punch and combined for 23 points and 15 rebounds in the 54-30 Hughesville win. Lewisburg is winning its games by a 19-point average.
4. Wellsboro (7-0)
That was a huge 55-49 win at Athens Wellsboro recorded Friday. The Green Hornets beat a team on the road that embarrassed it last year and is a District 4 Class AAA title contender after falling behind by seven early in front of a boisterous crowd. It was a statement game by a team that could play Lewisburg in the Montoursville Christmas Tournament Thursday if both reach the final. Sophomore Kieron Smethers keeps making big plays on both ends and Mike Pietropola is becoming a super sub. The sophomore scored 19 points off the bench against Athens a week after a 20-point performance off the bench.
Senior point guard Kelby Mullen is a four-year starter who has been instrumental to his program's historic run the last two years. He has helped Sullivan reach states the last two years and is now becoming a big-time scorer after doing everything but the past three seasons. Mullen is averaging 16 points per game and had 11 assists against Bucktail while doing an excellent job attacking the basket.
"The past couple years Sharif has been the man offensively for us and Kelby has kind of known that, but too much. He was kind of been so passive that it was easy for other teams to guard him," Vaughan said. "He worked on his shot and a couple things and he's more of an offensive weapon for us this year. Now you have Kelby who can get to the rim and knock down the occasional jumper and is still able to facilitate our offense from the point position. I'm really happy with how he has played early this season."
Player of the Week
Pierce Ranck, Montoursville
The senior forward has ignited Montoursville's turnaround and been tough to stop. A strong all-around player, Ranck scored 26 points each in wins over Mount Carmel and Warrior Run. He helped Montoursville overcome an 11-point deficit against Mount Carmel.
Tournament of the Week
I had to go with a tournament instead of just one game because there are four good games that will take place Thursday and Saturday. Lewisburg opens against Jersey Shore and Wellsboro meets Montoursville the first night. If Lewisburg and Wellsboro meet Thursday it will have a definite playoff flavor since both teams would be undefeated if playing in the final.
Wylie and Hatton join returning starters Kelby Mullen, Derek Wilkins and Zach Meyer, who scored a career-high 29 points and made nine 3-pointers Saturday at Bucktail. Together, that unit was marvelous against South as were reserves like Sean Flannery, Adam Szklanka and Bob Polcrack. Still, it was Wylie and Hatton who stood out the most, showing how far they have come.
Wylie played a near-perfect game. Heck, from a shooting perspective he was perfect, making all 12 of his shots from the field and foul line while scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Saturday, he scored 21 points, made all seven shots from the field, grabbed seven rebounds and made four steals in a 97-57 trouncing of Bucktail. Physically stronger than a year ago, Wylie wanted the ball inside and was tough to stop when he had it, displaying good power and some nice moves.
A player who is nice as can be off the court seems to be developing a mean streak. That is good news as Sullivan seeks building off last year's historic season.
"With Conner, I always knew it was in him. He's a real humble kid and he's not extremely aggressive in his personality," Vaughan said. "We're getting him to the point where he really understands how good he can be and (Tuesday) I felt that. tonight I felt like he was thinking if I touch the ball I'm going to look to score and set people up second and he owned the glass for us."
Hatton set the tone last Tuesday, shredding South with some nice passes. He had five assists by the end of the first quarter while adding six points, four rebounds and three steals. Hatton showed aggressiveness too and attacked the basket while finishing, getting to the foul line or setting up teammates. Defense is still Hatton's specialty, but his added offensive dimension gives Sullivan a fifth weapon among its strong starting lineup.
"Lucas brings a lot of energy for us," Vaughan said. "He brings energy on the defensive end and it was great to see him breaking the defense down a couple times and making the right play offensively and building up those assists."
And Sullivan keeps building up the wins.
Loyalsock guard Kyle Datres has taken his football quarterbacking to the court. The sophomore, who alternates with Omar Little between point guard and shooting guard, topped 10 assists in three of his first four games and had 22 in HAC-II victories over Central Columbia and Southern Columbia. Datres can seemingly control a game even if he does not score much, something he showed in Friday's 76-39 win over Southern.
Datres had 11 assists in that game and could have had several more had some inside shots that usually go in not missed the mark. The impressive thing is the way Datres seems to know where everyone is at all times. His vision is terrific and he even faked out teammate Roger Wilson with a no-look, second-quarter pass that Wilson converted.
"That's what a good guard does," Wilson said. "He's really doing a good job."
Datres, who had 39 assists in those first four games, threw for more than 1,300 yards this fall in his first season starting at quarterback. He is playing a different sport now but still consistently finds the open man and still can fit passes into tight spaces.
"He is emotionless out there. He just keeps a straight face and doesn't get upset when someone doesn't finish an assist and comes back and does it the next time," Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. "He can thread the needle. He has great vision. he sees the floor really well. He knows where all nine players are on the floor at all times."
Montoursville is starting to turn its season around. Following four consecutive losses, the Warriors upset Mount Carmel and rallied past Warrior Run last week. Now they suddenly are one of only three unbeaten teams in the HAC-II ... St. John Neumann (5-0) is off to its best start this century. The Knights romped to two easy wins last week while opening their HAC-III schedule. Four players are averaging double figures in scoring ... Hughesville is doing a much better job this season, fighting back. The Spartans overcame an 11-point deficit Friday against Central Columbia and won, 46-42. The Spartans (4-2) have come from behind to win their first two home games ... Canton guard Eddie Larcom dealt his 500th career assist in a 70-45 win over Williamson. Canton has won three of its last four games and played undefeated Wellsboro tough last week. Keep an eye on this team ... Eric Huling scored a career-high 23 points as Jersey Shore thumped Shamokin, 66-46, Friday ... This is the first time in 12 years of compiling weekly Top 5s that all five teams are still undefeated entering the Christmas break.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/docmasse.