Hart & Co. shaping up just fine for SJ-O

Hart & Co. shaping up just fine for SJ-O

CHAMPAIGN — Hunter Hart didn’t play basketball last year for St. Joseph-Ogden.

Didn’t pick up a basketball, either, until six days ago.

You couldn’t tell with how the senior forward handled himself at State Farm Center on Saturday afternoon during the Spartans’ 70-53 win against Monticello.

Hart led all scorers with 21 points and shot an efficient 9 of 10 from the field in the third game of the Country Financial Centennial Shootout.

Not too shabby considering Hart — who was the leading wide receiver on the Spartans’ Class 3A runner-up team in football — had not touched a basketball in more than three months before his first basketball practice last Sunday.

“It was probably late August at Kolb Park in St. Joe,” Hart said with laugh about the last time he played basketball before December hit. “Not a lot of our guys are in shape, and a lot of us football guys are out there dogging it, but it’s good to get the win.”

SJ-O coach Brian Brooks said Hart — who is headed to Indiana on a baseball scholarship — made the right decision to not play basketball during the Spartans’ run to the Class 2A state tournament last March.

“Most kids don’t do it for the right reasons, but he did,” Brooks said. “He spent every day in the weight room and had a baseball in his hand. He came to me after baseball season was over in early June and said, ‘I really want to play basketball.’ We’re glad to have him back.”

Brooks enjoys the different options Hart gives the Spartans. Opponents can’t just key on Brent Schluter (13 points, six rebounds) inside.

“He’s going to be really big for us this year,” Brooks said. “We didn’t know what we’d get early. He’s not in basketball shape, obviously, but he showed the production he can give us. He creates matchup problems. You can’t just put a big, physical kid on Schluter because you’re going to have to have another one for Hart. That just adds a whole new dimension to our team.”

The Spartans (3-0) pulled away in the fourth quarter after the Sages (0-4) held a brief 43-42 lead in the first minute of the final period.

Junior Tyler Harms was a key component in the late surge. The SJ-O guard scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, giving the Spartans four players in double figures after Nate Michael finished with 13 points.

“Harms showed in the second half what he can bring to us,” Brooks said. “He hit a few huge baskets for us. He was really nervous the first two (games). He’s new to the varsity level and playing significant minutes. He really relaxed and played the second half.”

The Spartans will have to make do without projected starter Jake Stewart until possibly late January. Brooks said the senior guard, a two-way starter in football, suffered a stress fracture in his vertebra and could miss most of the season.

Nick Stokowski paced the Sages with 16 points and eight rebounds. He wasn’t the only one, however, to contribute for Monticello. Daniel Caldwell added 12 points while Noah Freemon (nine points, four rebounds) and Nathan Mumm (eight points, five rebounds) gave the Sages some scoring balance they’ve wanted to see more of.

“We’ve got some positives we can take from this,” Monticello coach Kevin Roy said. “From where we were at two weeks ago, we’ve made some great strides. We’ve needed people to step up. They’re just young. They’ve got to get the confidence and willingness to do it.”

Despite the loss, Monticello, which like SJ-O brought its band to State Farm Center, was appreciative of the chance to play in the storied venue.

“You kind of get chills walking in here when you think of the history of this building,” Roy said. “We’re grateful to be a part of it.”

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