March Madness is upon us and that means it’s time for the 2013 Yucus Awards for Basketball Excellence.
So, without further ado, here’s a look at the some of the best in area prep basketball as witnessed by your humble narrator this season.
“He can play on my team anytime.” Those words, uttered by a fellow sports scribe, sum up my feelings on Putnam County senior guard Xavier Warren, who repeats as Mr. Hustle.
A diligent defender, Warren’s contributions at the peak of the Panthers 1-2-2 zone trap often consisted of a non-stop circuit of sprinting between opposing guards during spirited games of keep-away at the top of the key. It was a seemingly Sisyphus-esque task he appeared to relish until finally forcing what seemed to be a nearly inevitable mistake or momentary lack of concentration from his opponents.
Professor X didn’t just dive for loose balls, he devoured them — launching like Superman as he propelled himself parallel to the hardwood in pursuit of pure hoops truth, justice and the American way.
There’s a lot of well-rounded and incredibly skilled scorers in the NT coverage area, which made this a tough award to pick. Ultimately, I decided to go with the playground factor.
If I was picking a scorer for a round of roundball out back on the playground at good ol’ Ohio High School, I would look no further than L-P’s Jens Soderholm, who proved plenty able take over a game with his combination of post presence, ability to score off the dribble and long-range accuracy.
There were plenty of examples of Soderholm stealing the show this season, but a come-back rally against Streator on Jan. 25 — where he scored 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, including a personal 9-0 run — sticks out in my memory.
To quote Stacey King, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound senior swingman is just ‘too big, too fast, too strong.” It’s backed up by the numbers as well, as the Cavalier standout led the area with 21.8 points per game.
Everybody loves a buzzer beater, but more often it’s the shots that come when the clock is stopped that end up being the most important. This year, I had the chance to see a pair of area players freeze time with clutch performances at the foul stripe down the stretch.
Harold Fay has basketball in his blood — winning the Tri-County Conference Tournament is even a family tradition shared by the PC junior, his father Harold, and brothers Carlton and Kevin.
He’s also got ice water in his veins.
Fay stepped up to the foul stripe on three consecutive possessions for the Panthers in their Class 1A Henry Regional Championship victory over Marquette and knocked down six straight shots to help PC claim the plaque. Forget steel, the PC junior has nerves of platinum.
Honorable mention goes to Henry junior Jake Schlosser, who drew a foul on a late 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left, and then calmly deposited three straight free throws in the not-so-friendly confines of Hall’s Red Devil Gymnasium to tie up the game and force overtime in a regular season loss to the Red Devils.
Best shot (by a fan): La-Salle Peru junior Haley Duncan knocked down a layup, 3-pointer and half-court shot during a Cavaliers game to help earn everyone in attendance — including this reporter — six free Buffalo wings as part of a promotion from a local restaurant (who could sponsor this column for Caribbean jerk boneless if they were interested). What makes Duncan’s trifecta even more interesting is that her twin brother Alex also accomplisehd the feat a week earlier. Seems the Duncan family driveway games of H-O-R-S-E might take a while.
Best taunt: Just in case Streator fans had forgotten they were without the services of former all-stater and current NIU Huskie freshman J.J. Cravatta, the L-P Cavalier Nation helped remind them, informing several Bulldogs “You’re not J.J.!” after misses on long-range field goal attempts.
Magic Moments: I had the privilege to chronicle a pair of area seniors reaching the career 1,000-point club during games I covered this season — first Fieldcrest’s Brady Sanders and later Hall’s Brett Fanning. Both were special players that left a lasting mark at their respective schools, and I was glad to be able to witness them make history on the hardwood.
I’d also like to thank all the people behind the scenes — from scorekeepers and janitors, to the folks who bake the cookies for the hospitality room and pop the popcorn for the concession stand. It takes a lot more than the five kids on the court to make a basketball game happen. Thanks for all your hard work setting the stage.
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.