by John Unrein
A track meet broke out for the Grain Valley Eagles Boys Basketball team during their 66-24 win over Marshall on Tuesday, January 28th. Stripes easily could’ve been marked on the court prior to the game for fast break lanes. Dominance on the defensive boards by the Eagles led to quick outlet passes that spurred the transition game into full gear.
Eagles Head Basketball Coach Andy Herbert encouraged his team before the game to get their swagger back when it came to getting up and down the court.
“We had been playing sluggish lately. Getting the ball up and down the court fast was a priority. Josh (Kilpatrick) was a big part of that, not only running the floor, but using his vision to get the ball out to teammates ahead of him in transition,” Herbert said.
“It’s more fun to play the game at this speed. That’s how this team wants to play basketball. Sometimes you lose yourself in the monotony of the season and you must find yourself and the reasons why you play the game. I think you saw that tonight from us.”
Josh Kilpatrick was the leading scorer for the Eagles high octane offense. The senior scored 22 points to go along with his 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
Kilpatrick reflected on his team’s success after the game.
“We moved the ball better tonight. Thursday’s game was a tough one and that took us by surprise. Coach (Herbert) directed us tonight to take each game one at a time, stay together, and be willing to make the extra pass. Those directions paid off for us tonight along with getting to play with great teammates,” Kirkpatrick said.
A strong supporting cast in the Eagles win included Senior Guards Caden Matlon and Tristin Whitton. Matlon would score 13 points, and pull down 4 rebounds, to go with his 3 assists and 1 block. Whitton was perfect on the night behind the three point arc, going three for three. A made free throw as well would lead to Whitton’s 10 total points.
None of Whitton’s shots were as exciting though as his buzzer beater at the end of the first half from just inside the mid court line. The shot was timed perfectly as Whitton leapt off his left foot to complete the running jump shot.
Whitton explained what made up his success from behind the arc during the game.
“When I got the ball at the end of the first half, there was only three seconds left. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get all the way down court. I pulled up, and when I let it go, it felt kinda good and then it went through,” Whitton said.
“My teammates delivered good passes to me in the shooting pocket tonight that led to open looks at the basket for me. The best thing about tonight’s win was (Gavin) Yao getting the bucket at the end.”
Grain Valley’s 60-16 lead at the end of the third quarter permitted Herbert to clear his bench. Senior Gavin Yao was among the group that got playing time during the fourth quarter. Yao is a foreign exchange student from China who learned English at the encouragement of his parents during his junior year prior to coming to the United States. It paid off as Yao received a near perfect score on the SAT this year.
His intelligence is apparent on the court as well. Yao received a pass with 1:40 left in the final quarter. A pivot to both the left and right looking for an open teammate to hit with a pass did not develop. Yao then decided to take matters into his own hands by driving to the basket to score a layup.
The student section became raucous with chanting jubilantly for Yao. Players on the bench for Grain Valley could also not hold back their happiness for what they witnessed.
Yao spoke about his love for basketball and scoring his first varsity basket.
“I started playing basketball in middle school. Boys would play against different classes and the competition along with the girls cheering for us got me hooked. I wanted to get on the court and draw praise,” Yao said.
“Bouncing the ball and shooting made me fall in love with basketball. Tonight, was the first point I scored in a varsity game. The inside was hollow because they closed out on us and I drove past them for the basket. That was so amazing.”
Herbert was happy for Yao and the rest of his team that came off the bench late to help cement the win.
“Gavin (Yao) got the ovation he did because he’s one of the friendliest kids you will ever meet. He’s a tremendously kind and genuine individual. He wants his teammates to succeed and keeps everything light with the things that we take for granted,” Herbert said.
“His exuberance is apparent in practices as well as games. He grabbed me around the shoulders recently and said we are amazing in his unique accent. As a coach you sometimes start thinking about the next game if the outcome is decided and Gavin reminds you to enjoy the moment.”
Senior Gavin Yao scored his first varsity basket in the fourth quarter against Marshall.
Photo credit: John Overstreet
Senior Caden Matlon finishes the fast break.
Photo credit: John Overstreet