Greg Avery of the Newark High School boys basketball team couldn't have been more excited for the spotlight of the Division I state championship game March 15, 2008, against Lakewood St. Edward.

Greg Avery of the Newark High School boys basketball team couldn't have been more excited for the spotlight of the Division I state championship game March 15, 2008, against Lakewood St. Edward.

Even now, though, he cringes at how his game started - with a pair of what he considered bad shots, the first of which resulted in a missed layup.

But little else went wrong that night for Avery.

The 6-foot-3 senior tied his career high of 33 points on 14 of 18 shooting and added 11 rebounds, three assists and four steals to lead the Wildcats to a 65-52 victory and their first state championship since 1943 before a crowd of 12,465 at Ohio State's Value City Arena.

"My first two shots were two of the dumbest shots," Avery said. "I wanted to get rolling, and after that I was just in the zone."

Avery made seven consecutive shots after missing his first attempt, including back-to-back baskets to open the second quarter. He hit a jumper nine seconds into the period to make it 21-14 and made his only 3-point attempt with 6 minutes, 57 seconds remaining in the quarter to give the Wildcats a 24-14 lead.

After Newark took a 14-point lead midway through the second period, St. Edward rallied to within six before Avery hit a jumper with 7 seconds left in the first half to make it 33-25.

"I really noticed (how well he was playing) the next week watching the game and seeing some of the shots he made," Newark coach Jeff Quackenbush said. "We ran a play for him at the end of the (first) half and he made this fade-away (jumper) from about 17 feet. You know he's scoring and doing well, but I guess he was just in that zone and we felt really good about the shots he was taking.

"He had a huge steal at the end of the third quarter and just played well the entire game. His whole game, just everything he did, he really competed well that night."

The other starters for the Wildcats - post player Dane Kopp, forward Will McCoy and guards Cody Dennison and Rahlin Watson - each played contributing roles in what became Newark's fourth state championship. Although McCoy scored just four points, he was one of the primary reasons St. Edward's Tom Pritchard - an Indiana University recruit - was held to nine points on 3-for-7 shooting.

The Wildcats never led by fewer than five points in the second half and stretched the lead to as many as 16 in the final period.

Watson, who plays for Capital University, scored 10 points. Dennison scored eight and Kopp added seven as the Wildcats finished with a 24-4 record.

Avery said the standout performance of the team's defense made it difficult for St. Edward - and Pritchard in particular - to take good shots.

Dennison, who played two seasons for Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and will play for Tiffin University this season, remembers talking with Avery when both were in elementary school about one day making it to the state tournament.

"He pretty much did everything for us that night," Dennison said. "We'd had the mindset to be in that situation since we were in fifth grade, and in my junior year and Greg's senior year, we finally reached that goal. That will to win got us over the hump.

"I personally tried to give him the ball all the time, and everybody fed off of him. We were all clicking. Everything he was shooting was going in."

Avery remembers fondly the scene when he and his teammates returned to Newark that night and the celebrations that followed over the coming days.

It was a fitting end to a prep career in which Avery scored 1,131 points. He made third-team all-state and first-team all-district his senior season as he averaged 18.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Avery became the sixth player in program history to score more than 1,000 career points.

"I remember driving home and the fans were waiting for us when we got back to our gym," Avery said. "We had a ceremony and had a day named after us, 'Newark State Championship Day.' There was a lot of support from Newark."

Shortly after the state championship, Avery signed to play collegiately for Western Carolina. He averaged 6.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 30 games, including four starts, during the 2008-09 season.

After the season, he decided to transfer to the University of Findlay, a Division II school, because of the coming birth of his daughter. During the 2009-10 season for the Oilers, Avery averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 27 games, including five starts.

Despite having what he deemed a successful transition early on to Findlay's program, longtime coach Ron Niekamp, who retired earlier this year after 26 seasons, told Avery after the season that he "didn't really fit the system," Avery said.

In search of a place to play, Avery was considering Valdosta State, a Division II school in Valdosta, Ga., when on July 26, 2010, he and two other men were accused of assaulting a man in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

"They tried to hit me with a felony, but I didn't do anything," Avery said. "It set me back two more steps."

Avery now is a student at the Newark branch of Ohio State and working for Dennison's father, Joe, but is hoping to play competitive basketball again soon. He is considering playing on the Division III or NAIA level, or could join a semi-pro team.

Regardless of some of the ups and downs that have occurred for Avery the past three-plus years, he knows the memory of what he helped accomplish with his high school team lives on.

"It's still unbelievable," Avery said. "I still talk to guys who played on that team regularly, and for that game I think we all just did everything to get us that ring. We didn't let distractions get in our way. I felt like when I was starting to get hot that we were going to win the game."

Counting down to No. 1

ThisWeek Community Newspapers has been around for 22 years. That timeframe was used as the basis to compile a top-10 list of the top individual performances we've covered. Along with the experienced sports staff at ThisWeek and Steve Blackledge, high school reporter at The Columbus Dispatch, we arrived at a top-10 list. Below are Nos. 4-10. Check back next week for No. 2 and let us know your thoughts at

Nos. 4-10:

10. MAURICE HALL, Brookhaven football (Oct. 27, 2000) - During a season in which he rushed for 3,057 yards to rank fifth on Ohio's all-time list, Hall's most memorable individual performance came during the final week of the regular season. The Bearcats beat Briggs 75-16 as Hall rushed for 411 yards and eight touchdowns on 19 carries.

9. LATOYA TURNER, Pickerington girls basketball (March 19, 1999) - The 6-foot-4 senior helped the Tigers advance to the Division I state final with her 29-point performance in a 51-35 win over Wadsworth. The Ohio State recruit made 12 of 14 shots from the floor and was 5-for-6 from the free-throw line while adding five rebounds, four steals and two assists.

8. DARCY FISHBACK, Upper Arlington girls swimming (Feb. 27-28, 2009) - During preliminaries Feb. 27, Fishback broke the state record in the 100-yard butterfly when she finished in 53.38 seconds. She won her fourth state title in the event the next day in 54.17 seconds. Fishback also swam on two state-record relays: the 200 medley (1:43.59) and the 200 freestyle (1:34.24).

7. CHARLES JOHNSON, Watkins Memorial boys basketball (Feb. 24, 1995) - There have been few more surprising performances than what this 5-8 senior guard accomplished in leading the Warriors to a 93-87 overtime upset of second-seeded and state-ranked London in the second round of the Division II district tournament. Watkins Memorial was just 1-19 entering the matchup but got 57 points from Johnson, who made 19 of 34 from floor, including eight 3-pointers, and was 11-for-15 from the free-throw line. He added eight rebounds, six steals and five assists.

6. KHALILAH CARPENTER, Brook-haven girls track and field (June 2-3, 2000) - At the 2000 Division I state meet, the junior broke the meet and state records in the 100 meters with a time of 11.59 seconds on June 2. The next day, she won the 100 in 11.71 and the 200 title in 23.69, a time that lowered the state mark she already held.

5. JEFF BACKES, Upper Arlington football (Dec. 2, 2000) - In leading the Golden Bears to the Division I state title, the 5-9, 180-pound senior turned in a performance worthy of the Ohio Mr. Football award that he had received days earlier. Backes rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries and preserved a 15-9 victory over Solon at Fawcett Stadium in Canton with an interception with less than a minute remaining.

4. COURTNEY SMITH, Hilliard Davidson softball (May 17 and 19, 2006) - Smith brought to a close what remains the longest OHSAA softball tournament game, hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the 22nd inning for a 4-1 victory over Olentangy Liberty and a Division I district championship for the Wildcats. It was Smith's first career home run. She also stood out in the circle, striking out 29 while pitching a complete game. She didn't allow a run until the top of the 22nd.