As a sophomore, Payton Rhoades averaged just over three points per game for the Pepperell boys’ basketball team.
This season, after a record-breaking senior campaign that saw the multi-sport standout average 19.7 points and 15.2 rebounds per outing, Rhoades is the Rome News-Tribune Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year.
The senior forward did it all for the Dragons, including averaging over two blocks per game as one of the premier defensive stoppers in Region 7-AA.
Pepperell coach Zach Mendence says he’s never seen anything quite like the year Rhoades put together.
“I’ve never seen a player do what he did, and I don’t know if I’ll see another player at Pepperell do it again,” Mendence said. “I’m still in awe.”
Rhoades’ rebounding numbers are even more outstanding when considering that at 6-foot-2, he’s not exactly the prototypical size for a player who can snatch everything off the glass. Most games, he was battling against opponents with a significant height advantage down in the paint.
“His work ethic is incredible,” Mendence said. “He’s also an extremely quick jumper. He’s not got an overall big-time vertical, but he’s one of those that misses and by the time you turn around, he’s right back up again. Put that together with the craziest tenacity I’ve ever seen from a human being.”
Rhoades set Pepperell’s school record for rebounds in a season with 365, and set the school record for rebounds in a game when he exploded for 28 points and 26 boards against Coosa in the Christmas Tournament. A model of consistency, Rhoades recorded a double-double in 21 out of 24 contests.
Those ridiculous stats helped him earn Region 7-AA Player of the Year and Northwest Georgia Tip-Off Club Player of the Year. As a tribute to his gritty determination and selfless play, the star also led the Dragons in charges taken, with 24.
“Yes, he led us in scoring,” Mendence said. “Yes, he led us in rebounding. Those are great stats. But how many guys want to get in front of people and sacrifice their body and be willing to take charges? When you have your leader going out there and doing that, it tells everybody else they need to do the same thing.”
Time after time, Mendence noted Rhoades stepped up when his team needed him most.
“The best players rise to the competition,” Mendence said. “You look at him, and he was never fearful in games. It almost seemed like the bigger, the better. The more scary, the better. He put up 30 (points) and 17 (rebounds) against Mt. Zion, playing against a 6-6 football commit.”
As tenacious as he was on the court, Rhoades also put in the work in the classroom. He graduates as Pepperell’s salutatorian with a 4.0 GPA and will attend Sacred Heart University in the fall on a football scholarship.
“His drive, his tenacity, and when the occasion arises, his overall competitiveness, does not let him back down from a challenge,” Mendence said. “That’s the biggest reason why he is successful.”