Spartans have winning formula
ST. JOSEPH — Within the St. Joseph-Ogden boys' basketball team, there are the "haves" and the "have-nots."
The Spartans have not much height. They have a roster full of competitive players.
The Spartans have not one individual who must be the focus of every opponent's defensive game plan. They have a team with balance, illustrated by 13 squad members reaching the scoring column Thursday during first-round action of the 23rd Leader Classic.
SJ-O's unbeaten squad took the first step toward reclaiming a tournament title that eluded it the past two seasons, overpowering Armstrong-Potomac 59-30.
Perhaps the greatest strength coach Brian Brooks' team has comes when it's not trying to score points.
"Defense is what we're all about," said junior Corbin Hesterberg, one of the four underclassmen who start on a 6-0 team. "That's our main focus."
The defensive emphasis leads to offensive production. Two of SJ-O's first three baskets against the Trojans came on breakaways following steals. Chase Patton and Hesterberg were on the receiving end of passes that led to layups.
"Defense is where we've hung our hat the past nine years," Brooks said.
Even when A-P (3-7) took care of the ball, it had difficulty getting good shots.
"In the first half, I thought they had to rush their shots a little," Brooks said.
Hesterberg made his first seven shots en route to a game-high 16 points. He broke the game's final tie, 9-9, on a penetration move with 4:03 left in the opening quarter.
"The middle was open, and I used my strength to get to the basket," he said.
SJ-O pulled away by scoring 18 of the first 19 third-quarter points. Louis Acklin grabbed eight of his game-high 12 rebounds in the period.
"Louis played exceptionally well," said Brooks, who has changed the 6-foot-4 junior's role.
As the Spartans' tallest starter, Acklin's defensive challenge is to match up with the opponent's center.
"We're asking him to play a bigger post player, and every day he's getting better," Brooks said.
Patton and Nate Michael each scored seven points for SJ-O.
Hesterberg hopes the team's start is just a prelude of what will follow.
"Our expectations are high," he said.
One goal for SJ-O is to qualify for the sectional tournament it will host. Brooks is glad the postseason is still two months away.
"We're nowhere near ready to win a regional," he said.
Armstrong-Potomac's leaders were Wade Rogers with eight points and Kolton Vermillion with five rebounds.
Olympia 47, Westville 25. The youthful Tigers were playing their second full game without their tallest starter and the lone senior who is in the lineup regularly. Cody Hill, a 6-5 center, reinjured a knee which required him to sit out last season.
In his absence, Westville has a lineup with three sophomores and two juniors starting. The first two players off the bench are sophomores.
"With three sophomores that are learning to play, we competed and we played hard," Westville coach Jeff Millis said.
What the Tigers couldn't do was negate the size advantage Olympia had inside with Alex Becker. The 6-6 Becker had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Becker had six points in the first quarter as Olympia (4-4) went up 9-2 in a game it never trailed.
Sophomore Kyle Brazas led Westville (4-2) with six points. Junior Layn White had three rebounds for a team that totaled 11 boards.
"They were physically stronger, and we got hurt on the boards," Millis said.
Hill has missed the team's last 2 1/2 games and is expected to be sidelined at least through the end of the Leader Classic, which concludes Wednesday.
Following the Leaders
The host school has been the dominant one during the first 22 years of St. Joseph-Ogden’s pre-Christmas Leader Classic. A look at the champions in the annual boys’ basketball tournament:
SCHOOL TITLES LAST TITLE
x-St. Joseph-Ogden 12 2008
x-Paxton-Buckley-Loda 3 2010
Monticello 2 2002
x-Chrisman 2 1997
x-Armstrong-Potomac 1 2001
Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 1 1989
x-Olympia 1 2009
NOTE: x-denotes schools entered in this year’s eight-team event. Games are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, with all of the trophy games Wednesday.