24 Feb Middleton, Eagles soar into conference tournament
By Mark Oliver
With the postseason finally here, Vilonia is right where it wants to be in the Class 5A title discussion. Behind senior guard/forward Gram Middleton, the Eagles rely on great shooting and stingy defense to win games.
“We’ve had to battle COVID-19 and injuries, but have had a successful season,” Middleton said. “My goals this year were to be a more aggressive player on both ends of the floor and to be a supportive teammate.”
After defeating rival Greenbrier, 61-39, earlier this week, the Eagles enter the Class 5A West conference tournament as the second seed and with great momentum.
“Our team goal is to make the state tournament,” Middleton said. “We’ve beaten the top seed in our conference, Russellville, already this year, so right now, we’re playing with confidence.”
Middleton was selected to this year’s 501 Basketball Team — 34 players representing the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the court. The team is sponsored by Conway Regional Health System and First Security Bank. The senior was nominated by his head coach, Jeremy Simon.
“Gram is a good leader for our senior high team, but he is also a good leader for our program as a whole,” Simon wrote in his nomination. “He is accountable, trustworthy and always has a positive attitude. He is a leader by example.”
Once a role player in Vilonia’s system, Middleton has grown into a key player for the Eagles this season.
“After losing four starters to graduation, we really needed Gram to step up,” Simon wrote. “He is 6’7” and has a great-looking shot. He is constantly in the gym working on his shooting and he’s a good friend to everyone. He is a young man with high character and integrity.”
Like any good leader on the floor, Middleton is constantly looking for opportunities to grow.
This season, the senior focused on growth in the post, turning him into a sizable threat down low.
“I’ve been playing basketball since seventh grade,” Middleton said. “I started because my dad coached the game, so, naturally, I wanted to try it. Larry Bird is my role model because he played physical and didn’t quit.”
“Gram has also developed into a good post player as well,” Simon wrote. “He has got some crafty moves around the rim and he has become more and more comfortable with being in the post if that is what his team needs from him. We are going to need him at the top of his game if we are going to be successful.”
Off the court, Middleton plays golf and baseball at Vilonia and enjoys fishing and hunting in his free time. After high school, the senior plans to play college baseball.
“My favorite scripture is Ecclesiastes 9:10,” Middleton said. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. My advice to younger athletes would be to trust in your ability and play with confidence.”