Sun Journal Boys Basketball Player of the Year: Evans Sterling, Mt. Blue

Mar. 22—Evans Sterling did it all and did it all well for Mt. Blue this season.

"That's the thing about Evans is that he literally does everything," Cougars coach Troy Norton said. "I mean, he rebounds, he defends, he passes, he runs the floor."

The senior point guard averaged 25 points, eight rebounds, three steals, three assists and 1.3 blocks per game. He led inexperienced Mt. Blue to its best season since about a decade before he was born, and its first tournament win in 12 years.

He was a Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalist, and after the season, the Class A North coaches voted Sterling as the region's player of the year. He also excelled off the court, earning All-Academic honors.

Now he been selected as the Sun Journal All-Region Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

"I think it was a great season, and I'm really proud. I had a great senior year," Sterling said.

Heading into the 2023-24 season, Sterling was overlooked by much of the state. It might have been because Farmington is a little out of the way, or that during his career the Cougars hadn't won at the tournament, which is when most people pay attention.

Whatever the reason, the hype didn't match the ability. He averaged about 17 points as a sophomore, and 18 points, six rebounds and four assists his junior season. He was athletic, versatile and skilled.

It seemed that only those who had played against him or seen him play in person knew about Sterling.

"He definitely kind of flew under the radar more than I think he should for a player that was as good as he was," Norton said.

The hype finally picked up this season and the state started to know about Sterling, but still not as much as those who saw him play. Sterling was picked as the Class A North Player of the Year, and one of the players he beat out for that honor was a Mr. Maine Basketball finalist.

By the time he played in the McDonald's All-Star game, he was a legend.

Norton was an assistant coach for the McDonald's game. He said that at a practice, Sterling walked by a couple of other players, who Norton said were probably from smaller schools.

"And they were like, 'Oh, my God. Oh, my God. That's Evan Sterling, that's Evan Sterling,'" Norton said with a laugh. "And Evan's like, 'I didn't know what to say to them, because I kind of felt embarrassed.' So, I think among the players, like, they do know him and know how good he is."

While Sterling was overlooked, the Cougars were underestimated. In the preseason poll, they were picked to finish sixth in the region.

It wasn't an unreasonable prediction. The Cougars lost seven players to graduation, and other than Sterling, the only returner with much experience was senior post Charles Stevens.

Sterling often deferred to the veterans during his junior and sophomore years. But this season, he was the veteran, and he was more than willing to be the man.

"Really, I was ready to take on this role. I knew what I was going to have to do this year in order to have a great season," Sterling said. "Came out and did it, you know?"

The Cougars opened the season with a 48-35 victory at Nokomis. Sterling put up a game-high 19 points. It was one of the few times this season he didn't score at least 20 points.

"He was remarkably consistent," Norton said.

Mt. Blue won its first 12 games for the best start to a season in school history.

Sterling wasn't surprised that the Cougars were so good. They had worked hard and spent a lot of time away from the court with each other.

"The key ... was just the offseason," Sterling said. "We were in the gym, I tell you, like every day. ... And then when it came time to play, I think that every kid on the team played their role. Like no one was trying to do too much, and we all just played well."

His role was to be the star player, top scorer, facilitator, best defensive player and the team leader.

Sterling has always been a scorer for the Cougars, especially as a slasher beating defenders off the dribble and getting to the hoop.

In between his junior and senior years, he added strength and improved his outside shooting.

"Getting a little stronger helped me finishing around the rim and stuff. And then this year, my biggest growth was probably my jumper," Sterling said. "My 3-pointer, down in mid-range. And then I was able to score all three levels, which was helpful."

Opponents tried everything to stop Sterling from scoring — double- and triple-teams that began at halfcourt or earlier, nonstop face-guarding and fouling — but he usually still scored. When he didn't, he exploited defenses' focus on stopping him by setting up his teammates for baskets.

"He was happiest, and the only time he would ever really, like, celebrate," Norton said, "was when he would throw a great pass to a wide-open teammate, and the teammate would hit a 3."

Norton said Sterling gave his teammates confidence because they knew they had a chance to win every game they played. Also, they knew how to play with Sterling, and Sterling knew how to play with them.

"His leadership was just off the charts," Norton said. "And he just got the rest of the guys to, you know, to play much better than they probably should have, I guess is the best way to say it."

The word "also" is used a lot when discussing Evans Sterling.

He also defended every opponent's best player, regardless of size. The 6-foot-3 Sterling was athletic enough to stay with the fastest of point guards, and his athleticism combined with length allowed him to stop bigger players.

"It makes it a little easier as a coach when you can just say, 'OK, well, we're going to put Evans on their best player, and he's not going to score. Now let's worry about the other four,'" Norton said.

Norton and Sterling both pointed to Mt. Blue's 72-42 road win over Camden Hills on Dec. 30 as one of Sterling's best games of the season.

"We were losing at halftime, I think six or seven, and then we outscored them insane in the second half," Sterling said.

He scored 19 points in the third quarter and 28 of his 36 points in the second half.

Also in that game, Sterling was defending Nolan Ames, who averaged 16.6 points per game this year. Norton said that Sterling not only limited Ames' scoring, but he made it hard for him to even get shots off.

Another signature Sterling performance was the Cougars' 70-58 victory at Skowhegan on Jan. 5. He scored all 17 of the Cougars' fourth-quarter points, turning a three-point lead after three quarters into a double-digit win.

"There were so many games we should have lost, that he just got that look in his eye, and he just said, we're not losing tonight," Norton said.

Mt. Blue finished the regular season 15-3, its best record since 1997, and earned the No. 2 seed in A North. That set up Sterling's favorite moment of the season: a quarterfinal win over Lawrence, which Norton said was Mt. Blue's first tournament victory since 2012.

"That whole game was just like amazing," Sterling said.

He scored 14 of the Cougars' 20 first-half points, then added 11 in their 31-point third quarter as they pulled away for a 70-30 win. Mt. Blue's (16-4) season ended a few days later with a loss to Messalonskee in the semifinals.

Sterling will play college basketball next winter. He has a few options and plans to make a decision in the next few weeks.

Sterling became the third Mt. Blue boys basketball player to reach 1,000 points this season. Norton, who played for the Cougars and was on the team the year current Edward Little coach Mike Adams was named Mr. Maine Basketball, said that Sterling will go down as one of the best all-around players — if not the best — in the history of Mt. Blue boys basketball.

"He just did everything," Norton said. "And he was the first guy there for practice, the last to leave. He just put his heart and soul into the season. And I don't think he could have done much more."

2023-24 Winter All-Region

2023-24 Sun Journal All-Region Boys Basketball Teams