Hundreds of thousands of high school basketball players nationwide hone their skills and gain college exposure through AAU, but after his sophomore season, Pickerington North boys basketball player Casey George had a decision to make.

George was faced with a choice of either playing AAU last summer or spending more time in the weight room and shooting on his own in anticipation of playing a bigger role with the Panthers.

George and his father opted for the more individualized route, and George hasn't regretted his decision for a minute.

After playing an increasingly important role last season to help North to a share of the OCC-Ohio Division championship and its second Division I district title in three years, the junior point guard is averaging 13.2 points as the Panthers are 11-3 overall and 4-1 in the league entering a Friday, Jan. 17, home game against Pickerington Central.

A 67-26 win at Logan on Jan. 11 was the Panthers' ninth in a row.

"My dad and I made that decision," George said. "Getting stronger helped with my confidence all around. I'm glad I did that. We made the right decision."

The 6-foot George gained approximately 20 pounds of muscle and now weighs 175 pounds.

He had consecutive 20-point performances in late December, in a 62-47 win over Centerville on Dec. 21 in the Capital City Coaches for a Cure at Capital University and again six days later in a 63-58 win at St. Charles.

George scored nine of his 21 points, one shy of his career high, in the fourth quarter Jan. 7 as the Panthers pulled away for a 73-59 win at Dublin Coffman.

"He was always ready for this," coach Jason Bates said. "He grew up a lot his freshman year and I knew he'd make it happen sooner or later. He's a very confident young man. He's been running the show ever since he's played basketball. I knew he'd be ready for this role.

"Still, it's on him to make those plays and take that responsibility and he has."

That freshman year, when George started for the junior varsity, involved going up against Division I college recruits Jerome Hunter (Indiana) and Eli McNamara (Miami University) in practice as well as Ty Wiley, who now plays football at Toledo.

"They were all long. You had to fight every day. It made me better as a player and as a teammate," George said. "Just moving the ball around, using ball fakes, all that type of stuff. You had to be pretty fundamentally sound against them to do anything."

Teammate Hunter Shedenhelm, an Ashland recruit, said George's offseason work has enabled the Panthers to use him inside as well as outside.

"We definitely knew Casey was going to have a big season. He lifted and worked. We knew he'd explode and he has," Shedenhelm said. "He is a great point guard. He gets his points and gets his assists. We can even trust him in the post because he's stronger this year and he can hold his own and get some easy points. That comes from him going to the weight room. He knew that was right for him."

North's winning streak began with a 71-54 win at Central on Dec. 17 in which Chris Scott had 18 points, George scored 15 and Shedenhelm added 12.

That followed back-to-back losses to Gahanna (44-42 on Dec. 13) and Hilliard Bradley (45-42 on Dec. 14 in the Ohio Scholastic Play by Play Classic at Nationwide Arena).

"We had a lot of confidence (against Central) and we were rolling as a team," George said. "Those losses we took taught us a lot of lessons. We've built off those games and have come together well."

Girls basketball team preps for Tigers

The girls basketball team will try to break a 10-game losing streak to Central when it plays host to the Tigers on Friday, Jan. 17, in the first half of a girls-boys doubleheader.

North was 1-13 overall before playing Hartley on Jan. 14 and fell to 0-6 in the OCC-Ohio with a 34-29 loss at Grove City on Jan. 10. Jada Moultair had 12 points against the Greyhounds, followed by Drew Ultican with nine and Alsaysha Grant with eight.

The Panthers lost 52-15 the next night at Olentangy Liberty.

Moultair had five points, her fifth consecutive game leading North in scoring. She finished three points off her season high against the Greyhounds, as she scored 15 in a 75-28 win at Westland on Dec. 10.

Liberty led 15-7 after the first quarter and outscored North 13-0 in the second.

Daniel leads swimmers at Northeast Classic

Connor Daniel helped the 400-yard freestyle relay to fifth place (3 minutes, 22.74 seconds) and finished sixth in the 200 individual medley (1:41.16) and 12th in the 100 backstroke (55.13) to lead the boys swimming and diving team in the Northeast Classic that concluded Jan. 11 at Branin Natatorium in Canton.

Braden Hopkins, Marcus Schwartz and Spencer White also were on the 400 free relay as North scored 36 points to finish 18th of 42 teams as St. Charles won (227).

White placed 13th in the 500 free (4:54.6) and 16th in the 200 free (program-record 1:48.74).

On Dec. 21, White set the Panthers' 500 free record of 4:51.21 in the DHL-Northwest Ohio Classic at Bowling Green.

The girls team finished 34th (10) of 44 teams in the Northeast Classic as New Albany won (311.5).

The 200 medley relay of Sydney Hopkins, Lindsey Keaton, Rylee Kreinbrink and Regan Turnbull finished 13th (1:52.3) and Keaton was 15th in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.08).

Kreinbrink also set a program record in the DHL-Northwest Classic in the 500 free (5:20.09).

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the North boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:

BOYS BASKETBALL

*Jan. 17 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central. The Panthers defeated the Tigers 71-54 on Dec. 17.

Jan. 18 -- Milton (Ga.) in Flyin' to the Hoop at Kettering Fairmont

Jan. 21 -- Home vs. Groveport

GIRLS BASKETBALL

*Jan. 17 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central. The Panthers lost to the Tigers 77-27 on Dec. 5.

Jan. 21 -- At Groveport

BOWLING

*Jan. 16 -- Hilliard Darby at Ten Pin Alley

*Jan. 21 -- Groveport at Rule 3

SWIMMING & DIVING

Jan. 18 -- Presidential Pentathlon at Ohio Wesleyan

WRESTLING

*Jan. 16 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg

Jan. 18 -- Panther Invitational Tournament at home

*League contest