by John Unrein
A jubilant Grain Valley locker room had reason to celebrate following their 59-36 victory over the Pleasant Hill Roosters on December 8th. The Eagles boys’ basketball team established the tone for the game early on by jumping into a full court press against the Roosters after the first made basket of the game, and not relenting from that point on.
Offensive fireworks were provided by senior forward Cole Keller and sophomore guard Owen Herbert. The duo fueled the Eagles to the start the game on a 15-0 run. Keller filled the Grain Valley stat sheet by scoring 20 points, pulling down 13 rebounds, providing 4 assists, and 5 blocks. Equally as impressive was Herbert, who sank five three pointers in route to a 15 point outing in his first varsity basketball game.
“I knew we would not be an experienced varsity team heading into the game tonight and I was interested in seeing what we got. Our ball distribution was good tonight, multiple people got to shoot, and most of time they went in. It was great to help contribute to a win,” Keller said.
“This group is one hundred percent tight, without selfish personalities. That’s huge on a basketball team when you are talking success. We trust each other on offense and play hard on defense.”
Herbert added, “I have been practicing my shot a lot. Reps have helped me get my timing and release point down. This was fun tonight.”
Keller combined moving through the lane seamlessly to gain offensive positioning along with put backs from offensive rebounds to pile up his scoring total. Herbert would settle at a 45 degree angle on the wing beyond the arc once moving through his motion responsibilities on offense. Herbert’s confidence in his shooting touch was on display as the game progressed. This was important for the Eagles, as it gave them a counter to when Pleasant Hill would collapse their defense in the post against Keller.
Sophomore forward Alex Snyder also made some noise in his first varsity start for the Eagles. Noticeable stress on the face of Snyder melted away as the game progressed, and adrenaline took over. Snyder would go on to score 6 points, grab 5 rebounds, pass for 2 assists, add 1 steal, and 1 block.
“I was nervous to start the game. Once you start playing though, it all goes away. Being surrounded by teammates I can trust makes all the difference. Our ability to push the ball tonight in transition and guarding them tight was why we came out on top,” Snyder said.
Snyder having a pulse on the Eagles win reflects work that has been done in practice by the Eagles during the summer and since the start of the winter season. Grain Valley’s ability to run the floor in transition lends itself to the timed competitive drills that head coach Andy Herbert often uses at the beginning of practice.
The same can be said for the importance of communication when reading screens and closing out on defense. What is emphasized and pushed hard in practice is showing up as second nature on the court for a young Eagles roster.
Herbert was as happy for his young team as he was about getting the win in his postgame comments.
“We went press to open the game because I wanted to get our own jitters out. Flying around and making something happen is a good way to forget about being nervous. We did a pretty good job of that as a team tonight,” Herbert said.
“This is a special group of kids in the way they do things. They are like minded and unselfish.”
“Keller’s ability speaks for itself. What they can’t see is the leadership he provides in practice on a daily basis. He’s selfless for someone who has accomplished so much, in so many different areas.”
“Owen (Herbert), that’s what he does from beyond the arc. We tell our kids to play in their box (role on the team), and that’s his box from the outside. He’s been a part of our program his whole life and it was great to get to seem him on the floor tonight.”
Herbert concluded, “Alex (Snyder) is athletic. He can run and jump. His growth in maturity over the last year as a basketball player has provided us a second post option. He’s also relentless on the glass.”
Grain Valley (1-0) will next host the Platte County Pirates at 7:00 pm on December 11th.