Lions senior Cody Ruehlen was named District 8-AA Defensive Player of the Year in a vote of league coaches this week. Ruehlen was also voted to the All-District team.
Cannon County's boys basketball team took on an entirely new dimension once it took on a defensive mindset following the Christmas break.
So did Cody Ruehlen, who emerged as the best defensive player on one of the stingiest teams in 8-AA.
Ruehlen was selected District 8-AA Defensive Player of the Year in vote of league coaches Monday. Teammate Justin Davenport was selected Player of the Year and Lions Head Coach Matt Rigsby was voted Coach of the Year.
Davenport and Jared Nave was named to the All-District 8-AA First Team, Colin Jones and Ruehlen were third-team selections and Brian Cripps was honorable mention. Four Lions were voted among 8-AA's top 15.
"All of these guys deserve to be recognized," Rigsby said. "They have all had strong seasons and they are the reason we have really enjoyed some good times to this point. We want to keep that going. I'm proud of all of them."
Ruehlen's defensive play helped the Lions improve the points allowed by more than seven points in the final month of the season. During that stretch the Lions surged to the top of the District 8-AA standings and eventually finished second, earning a first-round bye in the upcoming District 8-AA Tournament and subsequent Region 4-AA berth.
Ruehlen is charged with guarding the opposing team's top offensive threat most nights and he has risen to the challenge.
"I really try to focus on defense more than anything," Ruehlen said. "We have scorers on this team so I don't have to do that every night. I put all of my effort into defense and getting rebounds. That's my role."
Ruehlen plays it well.
His defensive tenacity has helped create more turnovers and subsequent transition baskets. Cannon County's success is team defense but Ruehlen is the heartbeat of the attack.
"Defense is not something you get in the gym and work on by yourself," Rigsby said. "It's heart, it's effort, it's taking that charge and working to get rebounds. Cody is a guy that gives of himself to make the team better. It is a feat to be the defensive player of the year in the district so that's a great, and deserving, honor for him."
Davenport is averaging 23.2 points and 4.1 assists per game. He has scored double figures in 36 straight games dating to last season, and he has tallied double figures in 48 of the last 50 overall. He has scored 20-plus points in 20 or more games this season, including 25-plus in nine.
"I'm very appreciative and I have to give credit to my teammates and coaches," Davenport said. "It all starts in the summer with the hard work. A lot of us put in that time during the summer and that's what it takes."
Nave has been one of the Lions top contributors all season. He earned All-District 8-AA First Team honors after averaging 17.1 points, seven rebounds and shooting 61 percent from the field during the regular season. Not only is Nave second on the team in scoring and leading it in rebounding, but he also has drawn a team-high 18 charges.
"Jared Nave is one of the best players in the district hands-down," Rigsby said. "Jared is not just a scorer. He's not just a rebounder. He's not just a solid defensive player. He's a complete all-around player. He is one of our toughest defenders. He guards the top post in our league. He just brings so much to the table and does so much for the team."
Jones earned All-District 8-AA honors for the second straight season after shooting 40 percent from 3-point range and averaging right at 10 points per game to help lead the Lions (20-10) to their first 20-win season since 1998-99.
"Colin is one of the best outside shooters in our district," Rigsby said. "He knows when to look for his shot and he doesn't take many bad shots. That's why he shoots for such a good percentage. He also can get a on good streak."
Cripps earned honorable mention honors despite missing the last three weeks of the season with an illness, but he did enough in the games he played to earn the attention of league coaches. Cripps averages 6.2 points and 3.5 rebounds but his defensive play and aggressiveness makes Cannon County a better team.
"I'm pleased and proud of who I compete with and against as coaches in this district because they know the game, and they recognized the intangibles (Cripps) gives a team night-in, night-out," Rigsby said. "Had he not missed so many games down the stretch I believe he would have been on one of the three teams."
The regular season behind it, Cannon County will begin play in the District 8-AA Tournament against either Upperman or York at White County High School Saturday at 5:30 p.m.