By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
GREEN VALLEY —
Five Bluefield Beavers had been selected Bluefield Daily Telegraph-Pocahontas Coal Association boys basketball player of the year in the 11 years of that award prior to 2013.
Make it six out of 12.
Bluefield junior Anthony Eades accepted the basketball-shaped trophy on Tuesday night at the 12th annual basketball banquet at the Princeton Elks Lodge.
The girls’ award was presented for the first time to a Princeton Senior High player — one with impeccable credentials.
McKenzie Akers, a senior who’s signed with the Marshall University basketball program, smiled broadly as coal association president Rick Taylor called her name.
Eades, a shooting star for the state champion Beavers, called his selection “a great privilege.” He said about the dinner attendees, “There are a lot of great players, a lot of all-staters, a lot of teams that went up-state. It’s a great honor just to be here.”
Akers, captain of the Class AAA all-state first team and Mountain State Athletic Conference player of the year, said about her honors, “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m just trying to be very humble, and very appreciative of everything that I’ve accomplished and encountered. I’m just very thankful.”
While the term celebrity is not usually associated with high school student-athletes, it seemed to fit on Tuesday.
“We’ve got celebrities here tonight,” Taylor said about the players of the week in attendance at the dinner sponsored each year by the coal group.
“You are the elite of the elite,” said Daily Telegraph sports editor Brian Woodson to the recipients.
Akers said her selection as player of the week made her feel “kind of famous.”
For the first time, a field of four finalists for both the boys and girls awards was selected, an indication of the difficulty of narrowing the talented field of honorees.
“There are no losers up here,” Taylor said about the quartet of girls. “That had to be a hard choice. You girls really did a great job this year.”
He said about the 11 boys recipients, “This might be the best all-around group we’ve had, as a whole.”
The dinner completed a doubleheader of sorts for Eades and for Lykel Collier, Bluefield’s point guard and last year’s player of the year winner. He was a finalist again on Tuesday.
Eades said, “We had the community come out to the rec center today, and it was an honor to be presented ... as state champions.”
He said, “We had a tough schedule this year. We worked hard every day in practice, and we also worked in the off-season.
“And it paid off. A state championship is a great experience. There’s no other feeling like that.”
Bluefield head coach Buster Large said, “I’m very happy for Anthony, but I’m also very happy Lykel was a finalist. It was a very hard decision here: Both of them are outstanding basketball players, AND student-athletes.”
“Anthony caught a lot of people off-guard last year with a 25-point average. Then, this year, he was triple-teamed, double-teamed, every defense in the world was thrown at him.”
“My coaching staff, Don Jones, Tony Webster and Dave Hubbard did an outstanding job developing different things to keep people off-guard.”
“You get two good players — and counting Michael Yost, three — and you’re pretty hard to defend. But we’re very blessed to have these young men, and very proud to have brought back the highest double-A honor in the state of West Virginia this year.”
“And we’re looking forward to it already (for) next year.”
The boys finalists, in addition to Eades and Collier, were Bland County senior Asher Dillow and Princeton senior Ryan Meadows.
Eades said, “Asher, Ryan and Lykel were great players, so it could have (gone) to any one of them. It just makes it more of an honor.”
The finalists for the girls award were Akers, Brittany Allen of Richlands, Jamie Brown of Mercer Christian Academy and Grundy’s Morgan Hall.
Akers said, “It was an honor to be up there with the three other girls.”
Noting that the others were all juniors, she said, “They sounded pretty young, so that means they have some years to come, to do great things.”
Listing some of the factors in her success, Akers said, “God first. I mean, He’s blessed me, and given me the opportunity to play, and I’m just very thankful.”
She expressed her gratitude to her parents, Ernie and Lori Akers, as well. She said, “My dad, he’s taught me basketball, ever since I came out of the womb. He’s always been there pushing me, and always expecting the best out of me.
“My mom’s been there for the emotional support, to tell me never to give up and to reach whatever I want to reach.”
She also said her older sister Tesla was instrumental in encouraging her.
The point guard praised Princeton head coach Debbie Ball, who could not be present at the banquet.
“I thank her for allowing me to lead her team,” Akers said. “Words can’t explain — her putting up with me for four years. It’s been a privilege. I wish she could have been here tonight.”
“I’m just very honored and very thankful that she had enough faith in me to let me lead her team back to the state tournament.”
Picking up on Taylor’s comments about the importance of coal, she thanked the industry “for keeping the lights on and keeping me warm in the winter.” She added later, “West Virginia is coal, and I’m very thankful that they can provide me the (energy) to live.”
Akers averaged 24.8 points, 5.3 assists, three steals and 2.7 rebounds a game this season, while turning the ball over an average of just two times per contest — remarkable considering that the ball was in her hands most of the time.
She broke the school scoring record and finished her scholastic career with 1,796 points. She led the Tigerettes to their first state tournament appearance in four years.
Eades made first-team Class AA all-state honors and all-Coalfield Conference for the second straight year. This season, he had 522 points, 59 steals, 50 rebounds, 28 assists and 10 blocked shots.
He scored 19.3 points per game and made 39 three-pointers, connecting on 40.2 percent of his long-range attempts and 87.4 percent of his free throws. In three seasons, he has scored 1,271 points.
That includes 27 points in the Beavers’ 63-43 win over Fairmont Senior to claim the state championship on March 16.
Taylor said, “They have a lot to be proud of.”
— Contact Tom Bone at