N. Harford has shooting star in Ayers


Just the idea brought a smile to the face of North Harford basketball player Jake Ayers.

What if he could trade each of the 20 points a game he averages to give the Hawks one giant leap in the Harford County basketball standings?

"I'd rather have the wins," said Ayers, breaking his usual soft-spoken tone. "If I score a lot, that's good, too. But right now, that really hasn't mattered much. It's just disappointing that I can't play well and we win at the same time."

This was supposed to be a good year for the Hawks. A winning season in 2001-02 and the return of eight seniors gave rise to optimism at North Harford.

But before it could reach a crescendo, it all came crashing down.

There was a summer car accident that has kept one projected starter off the court, a bout with mononucleosis that shelved one of the team's top returning scorers and a couple of academic and disciplinary issues mixed in that have kept the Hawks from having their full complement of players.

The result is a 3-15 record, 2-10 in the county, and a winless streak that has reached one month.

The one positive constant has been the play of Ayers, a senior who is the county's leading scorer. The 5-foot-10 shooting guard has used a combination of precise long-distance shooting and aggressive drives to the basket to put up consistent numbers against defenses focused on stopping him.

Earlier this season, he hit eight three-pointers and scored 30 points against Hereford. He struck for 30 again this month against Harford Tech, along with netting 25 against county-leader Aberdeen in perhaps his most impressive outing.

Ayers, who shoots 45 percent from the field and just under 50 percent from three-point range, has scored in double figures in all but one game.

"I don't think I've seen him force a shot all year," said Hawks coach Dave Iampieri. "Jake's a great shooter, but just the fact that he has gotten to the [foul] line more than 100 times tells you he's more than just a shooter."

Iampieri has tried to get his top player to become less unselfish, and Ayers has increased his shot totals lately, but it has been tough to break old habits.

Ayers played point guard for the Hawks last season and was fond of setting up his teammates first, though he still averaged 14 points. He was moved to the two-guard this season to take better advantage of his scoring capabilities.

"I don't want to make it look like I'm a ball hog, and I like passing," said Ayers, who takes about 15 shots a game. "With everybody out, I feel I have to score more. I don't mind the pressure because I think I can do it. It pushes me more."

Ayers has found plenty of motivation over the past couple of years. He played JV his sophomore season but watched a couple of his teammates get called up to varsity. He was disappointed, but not discouraged.

"I wanted to work harder and make my game better so the coach would look at me," said Ayers, 17.

The improvement process included going to several summer camps and becoming a fixture after school in the gym at North Harford Elementary school, where Ayers' mother teaches. His current points of emphasis are improving his defense and shooting better off the dribble.

Ayers believes there's a place for him in Division III, and is looking to play at a school like McDaniel, York (Pa.) or Salisbury University. But before that, there is the matter of winning.

"Jake never stops working hard and a big part of that is he knows he's going to play at the next level," Iampieri said. "This year's been a disappointment, but Jake isn't a kid who has given up."

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