On opening day of the 2013 Spring signing period, four Seward County Saints put the eyes of anxious coaches and fans on Liberal, Kansas as Edson Avila, Leslee Smith, Jabari Peters, and Kaheem Ransom signed their National Letters of Intent to attend Division I Universities. Avila makes many Southwest Kansas folks happy as he has decided to attend the University of Oklahoma next season. Another heavily followed school in the Sunflower State was the choice for Smith as he will take his talents to the University of Nebraska next season. Peters and Ransom will team up for the next two years after the two signed to play in the Southland Conference at Sam Houston State next season.

Avila, a highly touted recruit throughout the 2012-2013 season was the final of the four to make his college choice. The 6’11 big man from the Bronx, New York decided on Tuesday morning that Oklahoma would be his choice after making his official visit to Norman over the weekend. Avila, the emotional leader for the Saints in back to back runs to the Jayhawk West Conference Championship, was third on the team in 2012-13 with 11.4 points and second with 5.8 rebounds per game. He was a 1st Team All-Region and 2nd Team All-Jayhawk West selection as a sophomore. Avila started all 30 games that he played in for the Saints as a sophomore and scored 10 or more points in 20 of those games. He chalked up four double-doubles on the season including a 24 point, 11 rebound performance against Colby early in the conference season. He will join a Sooners team in 2013-14 coming off of a 20-12 season in which they were a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. At OU he will play for legendary coach Lon Kruger, who before joining the Sooner staff in 2011, spent time as an NBA Head Coach for the Atlanta Hawks from 2000-2003 and has been the head man at UNLV, Illinois, Florida, and Kansas State over the past 30 years. Avila chose Oklahoma over Memphis, Gonzaga, and Oklahoma State among others. When asked about his decision to play for the Sooners he said “as soon as I walked onto campus at OU and met the players, I got the same feeling of family as I have here at Seward County and knew it was the right place for me. I am really looking forward to competing as hard as I can for the next two seasons for my coaches and my teammates.”
Smith was the first Saint to commit during the recruiting process. The 6’8 power forward from the British Virgin Islands made his decision to sign with Nebraska in early April after his official visit to Huskerland. A transfer from SMU, Smith played just one season in Liberal for the Saints. In that one year he was a key piece to the Saints conference championship run, leading the team in rebounding at 6.6 per game while also chipping in 8.3 points per game on the offensive end. Smith really hit his stride down the stretch for Seward, scoring in double figures in five of the Saints final seven games of the season, leading SC to a 6-1 record during that span. Smith will join the Huskers and Head Coach Tim Miles who will be in his second season for the Big Red in 2013-14. Nebraska finished 15-18 overall in a rebuilding season and made it to the second round of the rugged Big 10 Tournament at seasons end. Smith will join former Saint All-American Deverell Biggs with Nebraska next season after Biggs redshirted in his first season in Lincoln. Miles has big plans for the Seward sophomore, saying in a release today “I’m fired up about signing Leslee Smith. He is an intelligent young man with great maturity and is an excellent student. As a player, he possesses the athleticism and skill to flourish in our style of play.” Smith who chose the Huskers over St. Louis and West Virginia said “Lincoln felt like a bigger version of Liberal to me. Everything there is about the Huskers and everything here is about the Saints. I can’t wait to put on that red and hear all of the fans going crazy at Pinnacle Bank Arena next year.”
Ransom only needed one official visit to know that Sam Houston State was the right place for him. Ransom was the undisputed leader for the Saints as a sophomore this season. He led the team in scoring at 16.5 points per game and was in the top three in rebounding, assists, and steals for the Saints. Late in the 2012-2013 campaign Ransom became just the 10th player in school history to reach 1,000 points during a 27 point effort against Colby. The 6’0 guard from Wichita, Kansas was named 1st Team All-Conference and 1st Team All-Region for Seward County and was also picked as an Honorable Mention All-American. The model of consistency, Ransom scored in double figures in 27 of 32 games during his sophomore season, including 15 straight Jayhawk West Conference games to open the year. He will seek to become another successful Saint to play with the Bearkats, following in the footsteps of Marcus James who starred for Sam Houston from 2010-2012. The ‘Kats and Head Coach Jason Hooten were 17-17 in 2012-13 and advanced to the Southland Tournament semifinals where they were knocked off by Northwestern State in a nail-biter. An emotional Seward Head Coach Bryan Zollinger had to collect himself when asked what Ransom has meant to the Seward County program over the past two seasons. “Kaheem is exactly what we are all about” Zollinger said. “He came in here and worked hard every single day. He bought into what we were trying to do. He turned himself from a high school player who averaged 8 points per game, into one of the best players in school history, and for that, and what kind of young man he has become, I am very proud” he said. Ransom, who chose Sam Houston State over Texas-Arlington and Missouri State spoke highly of the current team in Huntsville saying “all of the players there were very welcoming. It felt like I fit in right away. While the players like to joke around and have fun, I can also tell that they are serious about winning and can lock it in when they are on the court” he continued.
Peters, who went together with Ransom on their recruiting trip to Sam Houston State, signed on the dotted line to play for the Bearkats as well on Wednesday. Peters returns to the Lone Star State after transferring to Seward County from Texas Southern where he played his freshman season. In his one season for the Saints, Peters was a difference maker on both sides of the floor. He was Seward’s second leading scorer in 2012-13, averaging 12.8 points per game and scoring in double figures 25 times on the year. Defensively he was equally as good, leading the Saints with 73 steals on the year and was routinely asked to shut down the opposing team’s leading scorer which he successfully did on nearly every occasion. The 6’4 shooting guard out of Brooklyn, New York, Peters was a 2nd Team All-Region and 2nd Team All-Conference section for Seward. He will join Ransom and play for Head Coach Jason Hooten and the Bearkats next season, the two bringing nearly 30 points per game to a Sam Houston State squad that didn’t have a player who averaged double digits last season. Sam Houston will be an experienced team next season with the addition of Peters and Ransom. The Bearkats had just one senior on their roster this season and could have as many as 12 players back in 2013-14. Peters spoke highly of the Seward program during an interview during his signing, saying “Coach Zollinger and Coach Sautter pushed me to a level that I have never been at before. They never accepted anything but my best.” When asked about his choice to play for Sam Houston State he said “they are all about winning down there and I like that. There are a bunch of hungry guys, looking to get back to the top of the Southland Conference standings and I want to be a part of that.”
All four of Wednesday’s signees played in integral part in Seward’s success in 2012-2013. The four were the Saints top four leading scorers and rebounders this season. Seward finished 25-8 overall, going 14-2 to win the Jayhawk West Conference, the most wins by any Jayhawk West team since 2002. The conference title was the third straight for the Saints, making Avila and Ransom two of just four players in school history to win titles in both seasons.