By Matt Nestor
The NIC-10 conference was young and balanced this season.
Boylan was dominant atop the standings, but didn’t have a star. Hononegah had several players who could take over on a given night. Jefferson played better when more people scored, and their leading scorer was barely in double digits.
But for all the balance, one player did stand out from game one to the very end. Senior J.D. Danforth of Auburn was the conference’s leading scorer, averaging 20 points per game.
“I did not expect him to go from 6.7 a game to 20 a game,” coach Bryan Ott said of the senior. “You never go into a season expecting a guy to average 20 a game, and whenever he does, he’s a tremendous player, no matter what level of high school basketball you’re talking about.”
That performance alone is enough to warrant calling Danforth the NIC-10 Player of the Year, but it was more than just points that helped Danforth lead the Knights to a surprising second-place finish in the conference.
“It’s the leadership, the work ethic,” Ott said. “It’s the example he shows everybody else every day about how hard we’re supposed to be working out. It’s about never taking days off in practice. Diving and taking charges in practice.”
Danforth said he didn’t have to look far for the motivation, either. He was the only returning player from an experienced team coming off several very successful seasons.
And even his experience was questionable. He came off the bench the previous year, but was fairly inconsistent, despite averaging almost 7 points off the bench.
“I was just trying to prove everybody wrong,” Danforth said. “I wanted to make sure we had a chip on our shoulder because nobody thought we were going to be good just because our seniors left. I just wanted to prove that we could still win.”
The proof started in the gym.
While most players parted after the season was done, and took off for their summer teams after school was done, Danforth was working relentlessly on his game.
“I was working out real hard this summer non-stop,” he said. “As soon as the season ended last year, that weekend, I started my training. My dad and I were at the gym every day, taking thousands of shots a week. I just really worked on my game, weights, agility and everything.”
While his coach could easily take credit for the improvement, Ott is quick to point out that it was Danforth who put in the work.
“You have to take a lot of shots, but you also have to earn the right to take those shots,” Ott said. “J.D. is night and day from his junior year when he made turnovers and took bad shots. That scoring ability, that slashing ability, that nose for the basket. That’s a part of him, I can’t teach him those instincts. That’s something that he just has.”
More than anything, his confidence in himself, as well as his teammates, pushed the Knights to a season that was beyond most expectations.
“He was playing like a guy who knows it’s his last go around and has ultimate confidence in his own ability and ultimate belief in his team’s ability to win,” Ott said. “He always felt confident he could lead us to that.”
Joining Danforth as All-Conference performers:
Nick Bauch, Boylan Titans—The senior center came in with high expectations this season. He quietly met them all year long. Other players had bigger games for the Titans, but no player was more consistent for the conference champions than Bauch.
Stanley Moore, Hononegah Indians—His teammate, Mario Donaldson, looked like one of the best players in the conference late. But for much of the season, it was Moore who carried much of the offensive load for the Indians. Combine that with his great defense and ability to get the crowd going with dunks, and Moore was no doubt a big reason for the Indians’ success.
Mario Manns, Jefferson J-Hawks—The J-Hawks prided themselves on team play, and anyone could step up and lead them on any night. But Manns, a senior, was the heart and soul of a senior-laden team, as proven late when his absence helped lead to losses to Auburn and Hononegah that saw the J-Hawks drop from second to third.
Fred Van Vleet, Auburn Knights—There were times, such as against Jefferson and Hononegah, where Van Vleet seemed like the best player in the conference. The highly-touted player is only a sophomore, but he was never rattled, and his steady play helped the Knights finish second in the conference.
Austin Angel, Boylan Titans—The sophomore carried the Titans on offense at different points of the season.
Mario Donaldson, Hononegah Indians—Scored 30 in a regional loss to Boylan and spent the last month of the season on fire.
Chris Miller, Boylan Titans—The up-and-down junior often looked like the best player on the floor for the Titans, especially late in the game.
Jalen Carroll, Freeport Prezels—The senior was one of the top scorers in the conference, scoring inside and out.
Bo Andrews, Harlem Huskies—The senior gunner was not afraid to shoot, and for good reason, using a hot hand to lead Harlem to several wins.
Zach Farel (Belvidere North), Michael Morman (Boylan), Austin Davis (Freeport), Thomas Hawkins (Guilford), Cameron Hunter (Belvidere) and Javon Henderson (East).
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From the March 17-23, 2010 issue