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Column: Schilling leaves lasting mark on SW Minnesota basketball

WORTHINGTON -- It's amazing what a difference a year can make.

A year ago, I was finishing my college career and looking forward to getting a jump start on my new life in the real world.

Now, fast forward to this year. Sunday night, a long way removed from my days of being a Wartburg student, I found myself at the Mr. and Miss Basketball presentation, sitting in Cody Schilling's corner.

As I sat there in anticipation of what was to come, I began to think about the first time I heard about Cody.

I had just finished the fall season and had begun to work toward basketball season. Coming from a basketball-rich high school, I was looking forward to heading out into southwest Minnesota on cold winter nights to see what this part of the state had to offer.

When I began to work on preview stories, all the talk was about this team from Ellsworth and its star player -- Cody Schilling. However, at the time, he was a name in a program with nothing more than some impressive stats on a defending state-championship team.

The first time I saw Cody play was in early January. The Panthers were facing Adrian, a team that I believed had a shot at dethroning the Panthers.

The first thing I did when I arrived at the gym was look up what number Cody was. I picked him out almost immediately, and he didn't disappoint that evening.

He scored the first six points for Ellsworth and finished with 29 points on the night. But what impressed me the most wasn't his 29 points, but rather his 10 assists and his ability to find open teammates when it seemed the Dragons were only interested in stopping the senior guard.

Throughout the season, I had the opportunity to watch Cody on various occasions. I was there when he eclipsed the 3,000 point mark. I was there when Southwest Christian visited Ellsworth in a highly-anticipated conference game. I was there when the Panthers qualified for state. I was there when Cody broke the all-time scoring record, and I was there when he and his teammates left the Target Center floor as state champions.

After seeing nothing but success, I was also there last Sunday to watch as Cody was denied what would have been a fitting way to cap a storied career.

In fact, it was not the 6-5 guard from small-town Ellsworth who left with the Mr. Basketball trophy Sunday, but rather, Jordan Taylor from Benilde-St. Margaret's.

Even though he was gracious in defeat, I can't help but think Cody Schilling was robbed of this honor.

While Cody has been awarded almost every honor under the sun (with the exception of being named to the third team by the Pioneer Press), the award that sticks out for me is the Associated Press player of the year award.

Cody received 87 votes, more than double of the second place finisher, Anthony Tucker, who was also a Mr. Basketball finalist.

I don't know where Taylor finished in the AP voting, but I'm not sure how a panel of state wide media members feel that Cody is the best player in the state, while the Mr. Basketball committee is able to put Taylor ahead of either of those players.

Perhaps the media was looking solely at numbers. Cody averages 27 points and nearly 10 rebounds and 10 assists a contest and is the state's all-time leading scorer and all-time leader in assists.

Oh, and by the way, he has also led the Panthers to two consecutive state championships.

Compare that to Taylor. The Wisconsin-bound guard averaged 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per contest and has scored 2,068 career points -- almost 1,400 less than Cody.

Of course, perhaps the committee looked at the competition that Cody and Ellsworth faced this season.

While Taylor was mixing it up with class AAA teams on a regular basis, Ellsworth is a class A team and faced mostly small-school opponents.

However, the Panthers' schedule was not limited to just small teams.

Against some of the biggest competition, Cody shined the brightest. He scored 23 points against Worthington (class AAA), 20 against Rochester Mayo (state qualifier in class AAAA) and even put up 46 against Pipestone Area (class AA).

Perhaps it was a poor showing while the committee attended an Ellsworth game.

While the rest of the finalists were in or close to the metro area, it makes me wonder how many games they saw of Cody's compared to the rest of the finalists. Ellsworth is quite a trip from the Cities, and perhaps not being in the vicinity hurt Cody's chances.

No matter the reasons why Cody didn't walk away with the trophy, I believe Taylor will represent Minnesota well in the next years at UW.

But I also believe that even though Cody wasn't officially awarded Mr. Basketball for 2008, there isn't a teammate, opponent or fan around who doesn't need a committee to tell them what they already know.

Cody Schilling is the best player in the State of Minnesota, and truly, Mr. Basketball.