The senior guard leads the Panthers into their third consecutive Section 3A championship game tonight at the R/A Facility.
The past two years, Ellsworth battled RTR.
In 2006, the Panthers staged a dramatic comeback from an 18-point deficit to win in overtime, 83-80.
In 2007, the Panthers had a two-point lead in the final 35 seconds when Schilling blocked a 3-point shot. Ellsworth went on to win, 68-60.
Tonight, Ellsworth’s opponent is Dawson-Boyd, which is seeking its first state tournament appearance since 1991.
The 6-foot-5 player has done everything asked of him in putting the community of Ellsworth on the basketball map.
He’s made it an easy job for Panthers’ head coach, Markus Okeson, who is in his third year. To put it mildly, Schilling has put up numbers that fans in southern Minnesota won’t see for another 20 years.
“Night in and night out, he gets what you expect from him,” Okeson said. “It’s no roller-coaster ride. He’s Mr. Consistent.”
This season, Schilling is averaging close to a triple-double: 28 points, 9.5 rebounds and 10.1 assists. He’s dished out 294 assists.
He’s elevated his game to be one of the best high school basketball players to ever play in the state. He’s a team player, making those around him better. He’s underrated as a defender, accounting for 2.2 steals and 2.2 blocks a game.
All the statistics aside, Schilling has been responsible for Ellsworth High School getting wins against a loaded-up schedule. This year, the Panthers are 27-2, riding a 19-game winning streak. Their losses were to Rochester Mayo (Class 4A, in the Breakdown Tip Off Classic) and to George-Little Rock, Iowa.
Okeson considers himself one of the luckiest men around, coming to Ellsworth High School at the right time. The Bemidji State graduate didn’t know of Cody Schilling three years ago.
“I hadn’t heard about him,” Okeson said Monday night after attending a softball rules meeting in Windom.
It didn’t take Okeson long to figure out that Schilling was a rare player. Schilling was a 6-foot-3 sophomore when he met his new coach. He made a lasting impression. Schilling’s composure as a sophomore impressed his coach.
“He was very composed,” Okeson said. “It’s something that he has. You can’t explain it. It’s something you have. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, you get the same effort and composure.”
Okeson remembers talking to Schilling for the first time.
“He seemed to be a very mature kid,” Okeson said. “He understands the game — he understands life in general.”
More importantly, Schilling’s presence was like having a coach on the floor for the Panthers. As a junior last year, Schilling averaged 28.4 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists per game. He had an astounding 305 assists.
“He was the complete ball player, the ultimate team guy,” Okeson said. “It’s not always about scoring points. He distributed the ball to others and did the things we needed to get a win. Everything he does helps our team.”
Ellsworth has had a good supporting cast to go with Schilling. The end result are back-to-back appearances in the state tournament finals.
In 2006, the Panthers lost to Rushford-Peterson (55-52), ending with a 28-5 record. In 2007, the Panthers hit a last-second shot to beat Cass Lake-Bena, 74-73, completing a 32-1 season.
All eyes will be on Schilling tonight.
He’s 49 points away from breaking the Minnesota all-time career scoring record. It’s 3,366 points, held by Braham’s Isaiah Dahlman (now at Michigan State).
Dahlman surpassed Chisholm’s Joel McDonald (3,292 points) in 2006 after scoring 1,110 points as a senior. McDonald holds the single-season record for points scored, racking up an unbelievable 1,157 points (38.6 ppg) as a senior in 1991. If Ellsworth qualifies for this year’s state tournament, Schilling is on course to eclipse the state high school scoring record.
“It’s not pressure at all,” Okeson said. “He wants to keep on playing. That’s his ultimate goal, record or not. If he gets the record, it couldn’t happen to a nicer kid.”
Schilling has been a basketball ambassador for southern Minnesota, shedding light on how his teammates play the game.
“You look at him — he plays the game the right way,” Okeson said. “If you want to (see) a face of a basketball player, he’s your typical kid. Without a doubt, I’m glad I don’t have to see him in another uniform (playing against Ellsworth),” Okeson said.
Everybody wonders where the Panthers’ floor general will go to college next year.
The latest list of schools includes Northwestern (Iowa), Augustana and Winona State.
“Who knows,” Okeson said. “He’s undecided.”
Schilling is a finalist for the Mr. Basketball award this year.
Photo by Andy Rennecke
Ellsworth’s Cody Schilling brings the ball up the court in a Panthers’ game against Marshall earlier in the season at the R/A Facility in Marshall.