Posted On: 08/3/18 6:59 PM

For the versatility, IQ, and lock-down ability that he showed every weekend, Garner Wallace has earned the Defensive Player of the Year award for 2018.

Wallace, a 6’4” wing playing for the Mid Ohio Pumas Elite 2021 team, has a combination of length and foot speed that allows him to defend multiple positions. He’s more of a 3 offensively, but the rising sophomore from Pickerington Central always defended one of the top two guys on the other team regardless of position.

“Not only does he have an elite motor, he’s got length that can move with a guard,” said Mid Ohio Pumas Elite coach Dave Mirgon. “Being 6’4” and still being able to guard 5’10” through 6’1” and move his feet and stay in front with his wingspan is a luxury at the top.”

Before the entire team moved up to the 16U level in July, this Pumas group was 25-2 in the spring with five first place finishes and five wins against circuit teams. But in the rare occasion that an opponent caught fire, Wallace usually slid over and took them out of the game with tremendous pressure, a tactic that fits into their collective defensive concepts.

“He’s our disrupter. He may not always guard the best player, but he’s always going to disrupt everything from the top.”

“We asked him to really get up and mug his man and we played gap defense. So, we’re always going to be in help in case he gets beat. So it’s twofold, I think the collective team makes him look good as well because of the insurance behind him,” Mirgon said.

The ball-hawking help-side defenders behind Wallace allowed him to immediately sprint the floor once he got a deflection. He was one of their top scorers, in large part because he turned defense into offense so well with his speed in the open floor.

“Because we always have our hands up and getting deflections, he’s usually the lead guy out in transition. He gets a lot of breakaway points and he’s our best finisher, so that helps in multiple ways to have a guy like him,” Mirgon explained.

Even more than, say, a scoring machine, defenders must be measured by their ability to fit into a team and Wallace did exactly that. Mirgon even referred to him as their “swiss army knife” at one point.

Wallace has an uncanny ability to tally up transition points with his track star speed and potent finishing ability. But his production and defensive value is also a testament to his character, as plenty of other gifted athletes would be unhappy with a primarily-defensive role.

“He’s a great teammate. Any team would be beneficial to have his personality. He’s always smiling and it’s pretty hard to get him in a bad mood. He does get down on himself. But he’s never complained or said a word to me about getting shots. We don’t really run a lot for him because he gets so much out of transition. … Not many kids are willing to expend all of their energy on defense to help the team win, knowing that it’s probably sacrificing their legs on the jump shot,” Mirgon said.

Anecdotally, Wallace is probably the nicest young man we’ve ever come across at a tournament, and that’s not hyperbole. It’s pretty noticeable from the minute you shake his hand. Yet, we’re sure his opponents do not have as high of an opinion, because of how hassling he can be for 94-feet of hardwood.

Projecting way ahead to the college level, most see him as more of a natural 2 or 3 defensively. But his foot speed could allow him to defend point guards still. If he puts on weight and maybe gains an inch of height, possibly Wallace can defend up a position also.

He paid his dues at the JV level for Pick Central last season, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he’s not a major part of their rotation as a sophomore, as they compete for a conference, regional, and ultimately state championship. Along with track and basketball, he’s also a standout football player for the Tigers.


Others considered:

Marcus Johnson (2020), 6’3” W, All Ohio Red / Columbus South

Mo Njie (2020), 6’8” C, C2K Elite / Centerville

Joey Holifield (2020), 6’1” PG, C2K Elite / Cardinal Stritch

Hayden Stone (2020), 6’8” F/C, Nova (Alleyne) / Carey

Lunden McDay (2019), 6’3” G/W, Nova (James) / St. Vincent-St. Mary

Brandon Haraway (2019), 6’2” G, C2K Elite / Norwalk

Jake Plantz (2019), 6’4” G/W, All Ohio Gold / Genoa