Bexley High School boys basketball coach Dave Gustin is quick to say that senior forward Sam Nolan makes his job easier.
The 6-foot-2 Nolan led the Lions with a 20.3 points-per-game scoring average entering the week, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor (69-for-124) and 38 percent from 3-point range (27-for-71). He also was first on the team in steals (31), second in rebounding (5.5 per game), third in assists (18) and was hitting almost 70 percent of his free-throw attempts.
But it's contributions from Nolan beyond the stats -- like leading his teammates vocally and by example -- that make a sometimes challenging job a little less difficult for Gustin.
"He is a great shooter, he is fun to watch, he is fun to coach and he is the hardest worker," said Gustin, who is in his 10th season leading the Lions. "He makes it easy to coach the rest of the team because my best player is working the hardest."
It's that work ethic that has made Nolan, who averaged 15 points as a second-team all-MSL-Ohio Division selection a year ago, one of the top players in the league this season.
"He is driven to be a basketball player," Gustin said. "He has no God-given talent, if you will, with quickness and speed. But this is a kid who is averaging (about 20) points a game because he has dedicated himself to live in the gym, get his shots up and to be a basketball player.
"The important thing is those skills are transferrable and ... if he works that hard at whatever he does he is going to be fine."
Nolan entered Bexley's opening-round game of Wellington's Jaguar Invitational on Jan. 17 against Shekinah Christian averaging 21.8 points. However, he left the game in the second quarter after turning his right ankle and did not return, according to Gustin.
Although Nolan scored only four points, junior guard Niejel Young had a game-high 22 as the Lions won 62-50. The following night, Young scored 20 as Bexley edged Wellington 57-55 for the title.
Young earned Most Valuable Player honors for the Lions, who also defeated the Jaguars 65-33 on Dec. 19. Drew Esposito also made the all-tournament team after scoring 19 points against Wellington.
Nolan missed the tournament championship game, but Gustin said he was hopeful Nolan would make it back for a league contest Jan. 21 at West Jefferson. The Lions, who entered that game 7-6 overall and 3-2 in the MSL-Ohio, play only league foes for the remainder of the regular season.
This is not the first time Nolan has dealt with injury. As a freshman, he broke his right ankle in an early season practice, but returned before the end of the year and then worked his way to earning a spot on varsity as a sophomore.
"When I self-assess myself, I think my work ethic is going to be the first thing that I would put on the list of things that I do well," Nolan said. "It is something that I can control no matter what is going on in my life."
Nolan's work ethic and love for basketball don't take a break during the offseason.
"My dad works at the school (as the librarian) so he has a key to everything," Nolan said. "The gym is always available and I just like it kind of as a sanctuary.
"I probably came in three to four times a week over the summer. I would come in here and use the (passing machine) we have here and it just spits the balls out to you. Maybe I'd get up 400 to 500 shots each time. It doesn't take long with that thing. It doesn't take more than an hour."
Nolan has received interest from several Division III universities, and Gustin said his standout player has the ability to play at the college level.
"Every once in a while you get one of these kids, they are fun to coach and you want them to be an icon of your program," Gustin said. "They represent the sport and we have been fortunate and proud to have Sam as that icon the last few years.
"Hopefully there is some young kid watching and he will follow up."
Ruff wins at 113 at Jonathan Alder
Freshman Perrin Ruff led the wrestling team in the Jonathan Alder Invitational on Jan. 18, winning the title at 113 pounds.
Ruff went 4-0, picking up his first two wins by pin and beating Centennial's Shafeek Shafeek 5-2 in the final. Ruff, who improved to 14-15 overall, avenged a 9-1 loss to Shafeek earlier in the season.
The Lions scored 127 points to place seventh of nine teams behind champion West Jefferson (283).
Freshman Zach Welsh went 3-1 and finished second at 120. Senior captains Sam Shorr and Daniel Lee each went 3-2 and placed third at 138 and 195, respectively. Freshman Parker Getz went 2-3 at 182 and placed fourth, while classmate Jalen Hatton finished fifth at 160 with a 1-4 mark.
Sophomore John Hartshorne went 1-3 at 145 and senior Craig Music was 1-3 at heavyweight.
The seventh-seeded Lions opened the Division II state team tournament Jan. 22 with a first-round match in Region 14-A at second-seeded Buckeye Valley.
The winner faced third-seeded Granville or sixth-seeded Mifflin after the first dual.
The second-round winner advanced to a Region 14 semifinal Wednesday, Jan. 29, at a site to be determined against top-seeded Licking Valley, fourth-seeded Whitehall or fifth-seeded Big Walnut.
Girls team bounces back to beat Vikings
Despite not scoring in the opening quarter, the girls basketball team defeated Columbus Academy 42-26 on Jan. 18 in an MSL-Ohio game.
Junior guard Abby Barno scored 11 points for the Lions, who improved to 4-9 overall and 4-3 in the league entering a rematch with the Vikings on Jan. 21 at home.
Bexley trailed Academy 7-0 after the first quarter but outscored the Vikings 23-4 in the second.
Junior guard Sophie Schottenstein made a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight points, while junior center Elise Torrence added seven points.
The Lions, who dropped a league game to West Jefferson 49-31 on Jan. 14, also lost to DeSales 50-19 two days later.
Entering the week, Worthington Christian (9-1), West Jefferson (6-2) and Grandview (6-3) were ahead of Bexley in the MSL-Ohio.