When someone achieves Livingston County Player of the Year status, they almost always enter a season with a fair amount of hype.
But when the Livingston Daily did its 2021-22 preseason boys basketball preview, junior Ashton Tomassi’s name was nowhere to be found on any lists. He wasn’t among the top players listed for Brighton and he certainly wasn’t among the county’s top five.
The omission was understandable, considering he hadn’t played a minute of varsity basketball.
He was a good junior varsity player as a sophomore, but the county’s Player of the Year always ends up being someone who established himself on the varsity the previous season. Nobody cares about your JV credentials when you start playing with the big boys.
“I don’t think he was more than a 12- to 14-point-a-game guy,” said Brighton coach Mike Griest.
Even Tomassi didn’t envision that he would become the first Brighton player since Zach Nichols in 2005-06 to be named Player of the Year.
When he showed up for tryouts in November, his goals were considerably more modest.
“This year, I was kind of just hoping to work my way up to be a starter and have an effect on the team, get us some wins, hopefully,” Tomassi said. “I think I exceeded what I was expecting to do by a lot. I didn’t expect to come out and have the year I had. My teammates really helped me out with that, feeding me the ball and helping me on and off the court, giving me confidence. “
Tomassi didn’t become a starter until about a third of the way through the season, a few games after he had his coming-out party by scoring 27 points against Lapeer.
“We did like to have some scoring off the bench,” Griest said. “Our squad wasn’t a real big squad. We were trying to go with a little bit bigger lineup and have him come off the bench. We just had to have his scoring and he was consistent with it. We weren’t big anyway, so we got a little smaller with him, but he plays bigger than he is. We didn’t have a dominant center type of player, so we went with a smaller lineup and he fit in perfectly with that.
“The nice thing about Ashton is we didn’t have to run a lot of stuff for him. Our offense just let him be who he is. Once he got into a groove and we figured things out to help him, it was a really good mix. “
After some steady performances following the Lapeer game, Tomassi reached another level when he had consecutive games of 28, 30 and 27 points at midseason. He finished the season with 32 points in a loss to Ann Arbor Skyline in the district final.
Tomassi averaged 16.2 points per game, the most by a Brighton player since Eric Giesow scored 16.3 per game in 2002-03. He averaged 19.0 points in his final 14 games.
Brighton hadn’t had a player score 30 in a game since Bryan Bollin had 37 against Redford Thurston in a 2008 regional semifinal game.
“After that Lapeer game, I had three games where I wasn’t scoring as much,” Tomassi said. “My teammates were just helping me tremendously, getting my confidence up. They made sure I had the ball in my hands. They wanted me to look to score before I do anything else.
“I was just feeling it. (During the hot three-game stretch) I probably made three jump shots. I was just getting to the basket consistently, finishing around the rim, making free throws. Just trying to get to the basket is where I feel I was having the most success. “
Tomassi also played football in the fall, ranking fifth in the county with 19 receptions and 240 receiving yards. He also ran 18 times for 186 yards.
He said basketball is his favorite sport, but he’s open to playing either one in college if the right opportunity comes along. Tomassi is playing AAU basketball and said about 70% of his offseason work is geared toward basketball, the other 30% toward football.
“When you’ve got multi-sport athletes, which I love, it’s a balancing act for them,” Griest said. “We do a good job at Brighton allowing these kids to do both without overscheduling them. These kids are overscheduled as it is. He’ll be in the gym working on his game. He’ll be ready for our season and he’ll have a good football season, too. “
Contact Bill Khan at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter BillKhan.