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Rounding out his game

Striving to be a more complete player, Singler has become South's top defender as well as scorer

Although only a sophomore, Kyle Singler has had little trouble filling the stat sheet thus far for the 10th-ranked South Medford boys basketball team.

The 6-foot-8 standout is leading the Southern Oregon Conference in scoring with an average of 23 points in four games and more than holds his own when it comes to rebounding.

But it's what Singler has done beyond the stat sheet that has made the 16-year-old a dominant force for the Panthers (11-3, 4-0 SOC) heading into Friday's home game against Ashland.

Designated as South's defensive stopper, Singler typically matches up against the opposition's most influential player and creates the kind of headaches even Tylenol can't remedy.

— He's just such a complete player and has such a knack for the game, says South Medford coach Dennis Murphy. It doesn't take him very long to figure out what guys are going to do with the ball, and often times he's right there waiting for it. That's something you just don't coach kids.

It's that feel for the game that has helped Singler essentially shut down the top threats for North Medford, Klamath Union, Grants Pass and Eagle Point in SOC play.

Singler held 6-4 North senior Ben Running to four points only days after he'd averaged about 22 in the Abby's Holiday Classic. Against KU, Singler limited 6-2 guard Seth Hughes, who's tied for third in SOC scoring at 15 points per game, to four points before leaving the game midway through the second half.

On Tuesday, EP's leading scorer, Mychal Williams, who entered the tilt averaging 14.7 points, managed only two points per quarter.

Last Friday, Singler shadowed Grants Pass senior Jake Dastrup like few else could and forced the 6-2 standout into 1-for-6 shooting in the first half and 5-for-20 overall in a 64-53 win.

You can't simulate it in practice, Dastrup said afterward of being hounded by the taller Singler. When you see it in a game, it's a lot different than anything you've ever practiced against, so you just have to adjust and do the best you can.

Dastrup, who ranks second in SOC scoring (20.5 ppg), dropped in a couple circus shots and went 8-for-8 from the foul line to finish with a quiet 20 points.

A couple of those baskets, you just can't defend (Dastrup) any better than that, says Murphy. No one's going to be perfect. The idea is you've got to make each shot as tough as you possibly can, and Kyle did that Friday.

Making it especially tough for Singler was Dastrup's ability to create off the dribble and GP's system of using screen after screen to free up its top scorer.

It sort of felt like I was in football again having to deal with all those blocks, Singler says with a laugh.

But he made his way through time and again, sticking by Dastrup's side to force a nightmarish scenario for any guard.

If you're not quite a bit quicker than him, you're in trouble because he gets those arms out and you've got no place to go, says GP head coach Bill Cowell.

It's that rare combination of size and agility that makes Singler such a formidable obstacle, says Murphy.

He's 6-8 and just so mobile, says the 17th-year South coach. Most kids aren't that big, or if they are, can't move that well. It's a very, very unusual combination.

Another rarity is having your top scorer also be your top defender, but Singler says he wouldn't have it any other way.

I'm always working to be a better basketball player and a complete basketball player, he says. To be a complete basketball player, you have to be an offensive and defensive player. You really can't go to the next level unless you can do both.

To wit, Singler says the brunt of South's emphasis in practice is on defense, and Murphy says the sophomore's been known to take home video of opponents to study their tendencies.

Kyle's a tremendous competitor, says the coach. He just does not like to lose so you're going to get his best effort. In some ways I think the bigger the challenge, the more he likes it.

Singler doesn't disagree.

Anyone can go out there and score points, but not everyone can defend, he says, adding that he couldn't be nearly as effective without his teammates' help. You've got to have the heart and desire and attitude to say it's me and you and we're going to go at it for four quarters.

You sort of have to put in on a personal level, he adds. If you don't really care too much, then you just won't have that feeling you need to stop someone.

And for Singler, slowing an opponent's top scorer typically equates to his ultimate goal.

If their best player doesn't play well, it's going to be difficult for that team to win, he says. And winning's what it's all about. It doesn't really matter to me if anybody knows how well I defend or can score. All that matters is that we win.

South Medford?s Kyle Singler, left, defends against teammate Jon Weaver during practice on Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli