Jeff Yoder Photo / iagameday.smugmug.com
By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
AJ Coons had a solid freshman season.
In his first season in a Solon uniform Coons flashed the potential to be a lot more than just solid.
He scored in double figures nine times as a freshman and had 19 points in his second varsity game while averaging 7.9 points per contest.
What stood out most to Coons about his freshman season was the feeling he was close to much more.
“I feel like last year I didn’t breakthrough,” Coons said. “I didn’t do what I should and could have done.”
This season Coons has gotten the breakthrough that seemed so close a year ago.
Coons is averaging a team-high 17 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for Solon (10-6) establishing himself as one of the top sophomores in the state.
“This year my mindset has changed and that has helped me a lot moving forward,” Coons said. “I’m more confident. I’m figuring out more what my role is this year and what I need to try to do to help our team win and I feel more comfortable with that this year.”
The new guy on a team with three returning starters last season Coons spent a majority of his freshman season trying to fit in.
As a sophomore Coons has quickly settled into his role as a leader on both ends of the court.
Even while becoming a more critical part of the Solon offensive plan Coons has raised his shooting percentages from the field, the 3-point line and the free throw line.
Coons also averages 3.3 assists per game and has cut down his turnovers from a season ago.
“He is picking and choosing his shots and where his shot comes from and he’s playing within our offense,” Solon coach Jason Pershing said. “He never forces anything he lets the game come to him.”
The 6-foot-3 Coons is a matchup nightmare for defenders.
He spent the offseason working on his jump shot and it’s paid off, taking him from a 30 percent 3-pointer shooter a year ago to 47 percent (18-38) from beyond the arc this year.
That shooting range paired with his quickness, leaping ability and length makes Coons a threat to score in a variety of ways.
“We run some stuff for him because we want to get him going and take advantage of his matchups,” Pershing said. “He can shoot it well enough that it’s tough to have a big guy guard him but he can get to the basket so he’s very versatile.”
Coons has scored in double figures in 14 of 16 games this season including five straight.
He has been at his best over the past few weeks, averaging 20 points and 6.5 rebounds per game over his last five games.
That stretch including a career-high 33 points in a loss to Western Dubuque, a 20-point, eight-rebound performance against two-time defending state champion Cedar Rapids Xavier and a 13-point, 11-board double-double against Regina.
Pershing thinks Coons can be even better going forward.
“He still has so much growth,” Pershing said. “He can be even better and he’s playing at a high level now.”
As valuable as he is on offense, Coons may be even more of an asset to the Spartans on the defensive end.
He has defended every position from point guard to opposing centers which allows Solon to center game plans around his defensive versatility.
“It’s a different role every game and I try to embrace that role and do whatever I can to help our team win,” Coons said of his defensive assignments. “It’s just you against your guy and you are trying to stop him from scoring. I enjoy the challenge and try to do what I can.”
Solon snapped a two-game losing skid with a win at Anamosa on Tuesday and closes the regular season with three of five games at home.
Coons believes the Spartans have a team capable of making a postseason run.
“I think we have had a tough couple of weeks here in our schedule but moving forward I like where we are at,” Coons said. “I think we can put things together and make a good run in the playoffs.”