South Jefferson's Tom Bassett was having an MVP-type year even before the Section 3 boys basketball tournament started.
He had helped lead the Spartans to a dominating regular season in which they won the Frontier League “B'' Division title with only one loss. And he had guided South Jefferson to an 18-1 overall record and a No. 1 seed in the Class B playoffs.
But he was not satisfied. So after practices leading up to the first sectional game against Bishop Grimes, the 5-foot-11 senior guard could be found in the gym taking 100 3-pointers daily, trying to perfect an already outstanding jump shot for a postseason run.
“That's Tom. He's always trying to get better,'' South Jefferson coach Fred Piche said. “And he always played better in the big games.''
It's that kind of work ethic and the ability to deliver big performances that earned Bassett the Times Frontier League All-North MVP award for the 2012-13 season.
Bassett's numbers were certainly of MVP quality. He scored 384 points, averaging 19.2 per game despite defenses especially focused on stopping him.
But, in the biggest games of the year, two against Carthage, the second against Indian River and two sectional contests, he averaged 28 points per game, including 32 vs. Carthage and 33 against Grimes where he hit key shot after key shot down to spark a huge comeback.
“Every coach we played against recognized that Tom had special talents,'' Piche said. “And not only was he a clutch shooter, but teams hardly pressed us because of his presence on the court.''
Bassett was also first on the Spartans in 3-pointers made (36), free throws made (72) and assists (80). He also ranked second in rebounds (97) and recorded 50 steals.
In other words, he delivered an all-around performance every game.
“That's what I'm probably most proud of,'' Bassett said. “That I was able to expand my game to the point where I became more than just a shooter. I have to thank my teammates for a lot of that because they gave me great support this season.''
Bassett's goal at the beginning of the season was to increase his assists, which he did, do a better job of rebounding, which he did, and increase his scoring totals, which he did by almost six points per game.
“Tom didn't just settle for jumpers this season,'' Piche said. “He was focused on taking the ball harder to the basket and making plays for other guys. But in the end, when we needed a big basket, we put the ball in his hands.''
Against Bishop Grimes, the Spartans trailed at halftime and were on the brink of going down when Bassett hit three huge 3-pointers in the third quarter and scored 21 of his career-high 33 points in the final half as South Jefferson avoided the upset.
In the sectional semifinals vs. Skaneateles, Bassett was again magnificent, scoring 19 first-half points and finishing with 22. But it wasn't enough as the Lakers rallied to end the Spartans' season in overtime.
“That was a disappointing way to end the season, for sure,'' Bassett said. “But to lose just one game in the regular season and to come that close to making the sectional final, I'd say we had a great season.''
Bassett was also one of the key defenders in Piche's outstanding defense, which broke the school record for defensive points allowed by almost three points per game.
“Tom got stronger in the offseason and was not knocked off the ball as easy this year,'' Piche said.
Initially, Bassett said he probably wouldn't play basketball in college, instead focusing on his work toward an engineering degree. But he's reconsidered.
“I realized how much I love it and that I would really miss it,'' said Bassett, who is still choosing between the University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins and the University of Rochester. “Hopefully, I can find the time and it will work out.''
And when asked if coaching was possibly in his future, Bassett said he wouldn't rule it out. His father is highly successful South Jefferson girls coach Pat Bassett.