COLUMBUS - Though winter has ended and the sound of a basketball dribbling on a hardwood floor has already faded into an echo for most high school athletes, there remains one final stage for three of the area's top basketball players.
East Palestine's Austen Reiser, Salem's Ryan Bush, and Columbiana's Khylea Fullum will be participating in the annual Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association's North-South All-Star Game at Capital University today.
The game, which features players from across the state in all divisions, is one of the most prestigious displays of high school basketball in Ohio.
"It's a huge honor," Fullum said of the achievement. "It's a really good game to go out on, to be my last memory of basketball."
While the North-South All-Star Game primarily serves as an exhibition of success on the basketball court, many players also see it as the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. With high school graduations nearing and college orientations coming shortly after, the game is considered to be the final and brightest stage of their high school careers, as well as a preparation for the future.
"I want to see how I stack up against these guys," Bush said. "I know I may not be the best player down there, because there are probably guys going to Ohio State or schools like that. But I know I can hold my own."
Bush, who plans on continuing his basketball career but has yet to decide on a school, hopes to use the showcase as a launching pad against some of the state's finest players.
Bush has already established himself as one of the finest players in Salem history. He holds records for career points, points in a single game, and points in a season. He was also named Columbiana County's Player of the Year and received All-Ohio Special Mention. Bush is considering several schools in Ohio and has kept a close eye on the state's top players in case they meet again in the future.
"We got to go to district finals and got to see some tournament games," Bush said. "I go to (the state tournament) every year to see some of the players who come from Dayton, Columbus, places like that. There are some crazy athletes. Getting to play in the tournament was a great experience. There were big crowds and lots of nerves, but we handled them well. I'm not going to be nervous."
Reiser, who will be attending Youngstown State University, sees himself as a potential mentor.
He plans to become a math teacher and a basketball coach, and believes his success at East Palestine was a product of his leadership qualities - qualities that led him to be selected for the North-South game.
"I really just wanted to be a good leader," Reiser said. "I wanted to motivate the other guys and get them to work hard. Throughout the season I was one of the guys who would give speeches before important games. I try to be as good of a role model as I can, both in school and on the floor. All the hard work and dedication I have in basketball goes over to school as well. It's not just a basketball thing."
While the North-South contest is undoubtedly a celebrated event, it can also be an emotional one. Fullum, who will attend the University of Akron but will not be playing sports, has already solidified her reputation as one of Columbiana's greatest players. Her 1,167 career points are a school record, as are her 777 career rebounds and her single-season record of 495 points. She was a Division IV All-Ohio Honorable Mention and received first team All-District honors. She will end her basketball career in Columbus today, but believes that the North-South game is another goal accomplished.
"My senior year was my best year," Fullum said. "I set a goal to be one of the school's 1,000-point scorers before the season. That was a big moment for me. Obviously this is a huge moment for me as well. This is the last stage I want to be on."