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Sikeston's Porter shares player of the year award

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Seated from left: Kristain Burger of Notre Dame and Justin Clark; standing: Ryan Willen and Michael Porter of Sikeston.
POPLAR BLUFF -- Basketball fans would be hard-pressed to find a more distinguished assemblage of talent than the one that gathered Wednesday at Poplar Bluff High School for the 49th Annual Poplar Bluff Letter Club Basketball Banquet.

Present during the ceremony: One state champion (Charleston boys), one state runner-up (Notre Dame boys), one state quarterfinalist (Jackson girls), six district titles and 20 of the finest basketball players in Missouri.

Those 20 players were selected to the All-SEMO Conference team and were applauded deservingly for their hard work and dedication. But of those 20, only a handful are recognized every year as the most outstanding of the bunch.

This year's Bob Gray Award recipient, given to the most outstanding SEMO Conference girls player, was Notre Dame's senior forward Kristain Burger.

The John Gibbs Award, given to the most outstanding SEMO Conference boys player, was shared three ways between Sikeston sophomore forward Michael Porter, Notre Dame junior forward Ryan Willen and Charleston senior swingman Justin Clark.

So how were these players able to distinguish themselves in a room brimming with pride and talent?

The answer was a consensus.

"Hard work," Clark said.

Willen said: "A little bit of luck and a lot of hard work."

Burger agreed, saying, "A little extra hard work -- and it paid off."

Porter, the sophomore, added, "I need to get back in the gym to be here next here."

On the boys side, it was the first time in the history of the John Gibbs Award that three players shared the honor.

Clark was the go-to scorer on Charleston's state championship team, averaging 16.3 points per game with a lights-out shooting stroke and explosive moves to the basket. Clark will attend Murray State next fall to play defensive back on the football team.

"You gotta play hard to play at Charleston," Clark said. "That's something I can take to Murray State with me."

Willen was the SEMO Conference scoring leader, averaging 21.1 points per game. Notre Dame head coach Paul Hale, who has been coaching for 33 years, said that if Willen can continue the improvement he has shown since his freshman year, Willen will be the greatest player he's ever coached.

"It feels good," Willen said. "These are some really good players. It's a real honor to be here."

Porter joins Tyler Hansbrough as the only sophomores ever to win the John Gibbs Award. Porter averaged 17.7 points per game and was an All-State selection as a freshman.

"I'm glad I even got the award," Porter said. "I thought there were a couple other guys that would get it."

Burger is a two-time All-Stater and has been nominated for a McDonalds All-

America selection. She averaged 18.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game with 15 double-doubles. In 27 games this season, she scored in double figures 26 times.

"It's quite an honor," she said. "This is a very tough conference and the competition was unreal. The other girls are phenomenal."

Notre Dame coach Jerry Grim and Danny Farmer of Charleston were named coaches of the year. The Lady Bulldogs won the girls title while the Bluejays and Notre Dame shared the boys title.

Morgan Davis of Doniphan picked up the free throw and scoring awards, averaging 22.8 points and hitting 128-of-144 of her free throws. Matt Ritch of Sikeston hit 44-of-53 shots at the line to earn the boys free-throw award.

Ritch joins a growing list of Sikeston players to win the conference free throw in recent years: current Bulldog assistant coach Brian James (1987 and '89), Henley Montgomery ('97), Justin Freeman ('02) and Julian Beard ('06).