By ANDY WOLF
Hayden Stone has lived his entire life as “the big guy.”
Especially in a basketball sense.
“It’s always been ‘Be underneath the rim, you’re so much bigger than everybody else,” the 6-foot-8 Carey senior said.
Where he’s going next, Stone will still be a big guy. Just one of many other bigs.
Over the summer between his junior and senior year, Stone committed to the University of Findlay men’s basketball program. He signed his letter of intent on Nov. 13.
“I’m thrilled, to be honest,” Stone said. “All my life, it’s been a dream of mine to play college basketball. Since I was young, people always told me ‘There’s no way you’re going to play college ball,’ this and that. That put a chip on my shoulder.”
Now, he shoulders a lot of the load for the Blue Devils.
Stone, a size mismatch on any given night, currently averages 21 points and 10.6 rebounds per night. His 38 blocks (2.2 per game) are also as many as five other Northern 10 Conference teams have.
Not just a tall body, Stone has added plenty of muscle to his frame and scales in around 240 pounds.
He’ll earn his fourth varsity letter this season.
Stone has been the tallest player on Carey’s roster all four seasons — listed at 6-foot-4 as a freshman.
“I tried my best to play varsity,” Stone said. “Also with this, people told me I wasn’t going to play varsity my freshman year. It’s just like the chip on my shoulder.”
Stone admitted before his freshman year he “wasn’t good.”
He kept at it, though, constantly working in the gym and in the weight room through the guidance of his head coach Jamie Young.
Stone led the Blue Devils in rebounding his freshman season (7.0 rpg) to go with 6.0 ppg and 2.2 blocks per game.
The following year he was the N10 leader at 10.3 rpg with his usual 2.3 bpg. He also fronted a very balanced Carey squad at 13.9 ppg.
That Blue Devils team captured a Division III district title.
Before any of it happened, though, Stone was contributing on the gridiron.
As a tight end, Stone caught 19 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns. He turned in 61 yards on three grabs in his final game — a loss in the Division VI, Region 22 semifinals.
Stone decided to give up football to put all of his focus and his final two years of high school into basketball.
Having had a bad back made it the “better sport” for him long-term, as well.
“It was not easy at all,” Stone said. “It took a long time to finally decide “OK, I’m going to play AAU, I’m just going to grind it out with basketball.’
“I have no regrets at the same time.”
Stone has attended every football game over the past two seasons — including Carey’s run to the regional final last fall.
He’s also made the metaphorical growths in becoming a self-proclaimed “much-more versatile” player.
“Free-throw wise, around the 15-foot area shooting wise, I feel like I’m a threat more all the way around,” he said. “In my opinion, I would say I’m a good team player, all-around, I try to get my team involved as much as I can.”
Young saw a freshman Stone as a willing learner who was willing to get court time.
“You look at him 31/2 years later, he’s really improved offensively,” Young said. “Before, he was more of a defensive rebounder. Now he’s our leading scorer, his shooting from the foul line has improved, his offensive moves in the post have improved.
“He’s just continually improving.”
Stone landed on the radar of UF coach Charlie Ernst somewhere between his freshman and sophomore year as Young regularly takes his team to the summer camps held on campus.
Ernst was not only drawn to Stone’s size, but his athleticism.
“He moves his feet really well,” Ernst said of Stone. “He can run, obviously he can jump. We feel like he’s just scratching the surface.”
Ernst, in his ninth season, recorded his 200th victory with the Oilers last week in a win over Malone. He is 201-63 overall and has led them to six NCAA Division II tournaments.
“He’s a great coach,” Stone said of Ernst. “He’s been doing a great job over the years with the team and that’s also the reason why I picked Findlay. A great coach? Why wouldn’t I want to be coached by him?”
Stone will face the usual “bigger, faster, stronger” challenges in transitioning to the college game.
His physicality will also be tested in the paint.
Ernst noted the difference in high school where Stone is much bigger than everyone and the game doesn’t lend itself for him to get as many favorable calls vs. avoiding foul trouble.
“You’ve got to be careful with how physical he plays,” Ernst said. “Carey’s not going to be as good with him sitting on the bench, saddled with foul trouble. Sometimes he’s not being as physical as he could be.”
“We think he’ll respond to that really (in college).”
Stone is already getting broken in to the college atmosphere by open scrimmaging with some of UF’s current players.
“I know I’m not at the level they’re at but it’s fun to learn, take tips,” he said.
Stone is even modeling a baseline spin move after senior forward Aaron “Moose” Overhiser.
While Stone has a lot to look forward to, his senior season is winding down and the postseason is less than a month away.
For now, he and the Blue Devils are hoping to get back to regionals.
Carey is 9-8 overall and 6-6 in the N10.
Still, the Blue Devils hope to be a force in the Division IV Findlay High district that includes quality teams such as Arlington (14-4), Tiffin Calvert (13-5), Hopewell-Loudon (13-4), Old Fort (16-1) and Fremont St. Joseph (11-7).
“I couldn’t name anybody here that doesn’t want to go to regionals or better,” Stone said as his teammates were in a shootaround. “We all have high expectations for ourselves this year. With it being my senior year, I want to do the best I can. I want to try to lead the team. I’m going to do my part and hopefully it works out in the end for that.”