Last year as a junior, Thornton Academy’s Payton Jones averaged 16.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, a league-best 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals while knocking down 33 3-pointers. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Payton Jones planned to accomplish many things in his senior season of high school basketball, but one was paramount – to lead Thornton Academy to the Class AA championship.

The Trojans had been upset by Bonny Eagle in the South regional final in his sophomore year. Last season they went a step farther but lost by a single point, 54-53, to Edward Little in the state final.

With the 6-foot-3 Jones manning the point and scoring and creating from all over the court and fellow first-team SMAA returner Dylan Griffin dominating inside, Thornton would have been a prohibitive favorite in AA South.

“Our goal was to get to the same place with maybe a different outcome,” Jones said.

That won’t happen.

Jones and Griffin are among the high school seniors in southern Maine whose final season of boys’ basketball has been delayed, shortened and significantly altered by the coronavirus pandemic. But until Jan. 20, Jones and many others expected the season to be canceled. So playing a 10-game season, while wearing masks, in gyms empty of fans, is better than nothing. Of course Jones wishes he could get that last chance at the Gold Ball but he can still gather with teammates, “and we haven’t experienced that for awhile, and that fulfills most of us.

“I think for me and everyone else playing on this team this year, we need to make the most of what we’ve got,” Jones said.

Jones said this year, without a championship to pursue, his major goal is to be a leader and help develop the younger players.

Senior Payton Jones led the Trojans in scoring in each of his first three seasons. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“That’s probably his most important thing, every year he’s become a little better of a leader,” said Bob Davies, Thornton’s coach. “This is his senior year and we’ve got some young kids that have to replace him. Even the the seventh and eighth graders look up to him.”

Jones has been a rare four-year varsity player at Thornton Academy and has led the team in scoring each of his first three seasons. His family moved from Waterboro to Saco prior to Jones enrolling at Thornton. His father, Ramone Jones, a four-year player and two-year starter at the University of Maine (1993-97), was Massabesic’s head coach from 2013-15.

Payton Jones’ junior year statistics speak to his all-around game. During the regular season Jones averaged 16.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, a league-best 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals while knocking down 33 3-pointers.

“I personally would make the case he was the best kid we played,” said South Portland Coach Kevin Millington. Thornton topped the Red Riots in overtime in the regional final, with Jones scoring 19 points.

“He was such a bear to us,” Millington said. “He could just get to the rim, he’s so explosive, can shoot it, he’s unselfish. Really the whole package.”

Jones said he’s undecided about his post-high school plans. Both Davies and his Ramone Jones said there’s little doubt he can play college basketball. But the lack of an AAU season last spring, combined with college rosters bloated with players receiving an extra year of eligibility because of pandemic waivers, is limiting choices for the Class of 2021.

“That’s a big part of this year,” Davies said. “The spring didn’t happen for him so hopefully we can get some of these games on film and get them out to college coaches.”

Here’s a look at other top seniors in southern Maine entering their final boys’ basketball season:

Old Orchard Beach senior Ryan Crockett led the Western Maine Conference in scoring last season with 28.3 points per game, and averaged 7.3 rebounds. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Trevor Beals, Massabesic forward: At 6-3, Beals can take his game outside. Despite losing several games to injury as both a sophomore and junior, Beals was a third-team all-SMAA South player as a junior, averaging 15.6 points and 6.5 rebounds in eight games. Beals recently committed to play next season at UMaine-Augusta.

Ryan Crockett, Old Orchard Beach guard: The 6-1 Crockett led the Western Maine Conference in scoring with 28.3 points per game, topping 1,000 in his career with a 34-point effort in his final game. He also averaged 7.3 rebounds and over 11 free throw attempts. A 4.0 student he is planning to attend Maine Maritime Academy and play basketball.

Jeremy Fraser, Camden Hills forward: An all-KVAC Class A first-team pick as a junior, the 6-2 wing player averaged 21.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and made 45 percent of his 3-point attempts. This season, through four games, Fraser is averaging 24 points and 10.8 rebounds while making 94.7 percent of his free throws.

Dylan Griffin, Thornton Academy center: A powerful 6-6 presence in the post with classic big-man moves, Griffin was a first-team all-SMAA player as a junior after averaging 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in the regular season. Griffin is undecided on college but is being recruited by multiple Division III programs.

Will Harriman, Biddeford center: At 6-4, Harriman averaged a double-double for the Tigers as a junior, with 16.9 points and 10.0 rebounds – both the top mark among SMAA Class A returners. The son of former long-time Biddeford girls’ coach Bill Harriman, he is committed to play next season for the University of Maine-Farmington.

Versatile senior guard Grant Nadeau of Gorham averaged 13.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and a SMAA-best 3.1 steals last season. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Jacob Humphrey, Bonny Eagle guard: A two-year captain, Humphrey will be looking for his own offense even more this season with the graduation of SMAA Player of the Year Zach Maturo. As a junior, Humphrey averaged 12.2 points and 2.1 steals while making 31 3-pointers in earning second-team SMAA status. He will play baseball next year at UMass-Lowell.

Dylan Morrison, Cheverus guard: A three-year varsity player and two-year starter, the 6-foot wing player averaged 12.8 points and 2.2 steals while making 39 3-pointers (35.8 percent) as a junior. A strong student, Morrison plans to attend Fordham. He combines with Nolan Sanborn (9.9 ppg, 3.7 assists) to form one of the top returning backcourts.

Grant Nadeau, Gorham guard: One of the most versatile players in the state, the 6-5 guard stuffed the stat sheet as a junior, averaging 13.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and a league-best 3.1 steals. The second-team SMAA pick also led the AA South teams with 72 made free throws. Nadeau plans to play basketball next season at Bates College.

Evan Willey, Lake Region forward: Now 6-foot-8, Willey is one of the toughest matchups around. With his size he routinely scores on smaller post players but has the game to step outside and beat bigger players with his quickness and shot-making. Willey averaged 17.9 points and 9.5 rebounds in his all-WMC junior season. He plans to attend Bridgton Academy for a post-graduate year.

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