Pivotal Players

Published: Friday, January 20, 2012

By Bill Tilton

Eric Truog is a rare combination of size and skill, but maybe his most unique attribute could be that the Kenston senior is fine living and working in a neighborhood most players only like to visit.

Truog isn’t interested in shooting 3s. He has no desire to dribble the ball up the court and break the press. Faking out a defender on the wing and driving the ball to the basket is not high on his basketball to-do list.

The 6-foot-10 Marist recruit is most at home by the basket.

And this season, the reigning CVC Chagrin MVP isn’t the only local standout whose time on the hardwood is mainly spent playing close to the rim.

High school basketball in this area is traditionally a guard-driven game.

This year is no exception as a plethora of talent is flowing out of local backcourts with the likes ofMentor’s Justin Fritts, University’s Jordan Barham andLakeCatholic’s Joey Vuyancih lighting up scoreboards on a near nightly basis.

But Truog, averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds per game, and a handful of others are proving that the traditional back-to-the-basket post player has not gone the way of the dinosaur just yet.

“We kind of take it for granted with Eric because we see him every day and we have had the luxury of having him on the block for four years, but it is unique to see so many guys in the area right now who have worked hard to become good at playing with their back to the basket,” Kenston coach Josh Jakacki said.

“It’s almost like a throwback to the old days because you don’t see players like that all that much anymore.”

More times than not, the top “bigs” in the area like to run the floor, play a wing/post hybrid position, shoot 3s and play a little one-on-one on the outside.

There are some of those types this year around the area when you consider players such as Mentor sophomore Brandon Fritts, Benedictine’s Mike Roberts (6-6), Harvey’s Robbie Jackson (6-6) and Brush’s Curtis Oakley (6-4) are a few of the players who have the skill to play on the low block, but will also step outside and get up and down the floor.

Fritts (6-foot-4) plays primarily with his back-to-the-basket, and has emerged as a double-double threat, but in the Cardinals’ high-energy, up-tempo offense, there aren’t a lot of entry passes to the low block and clear outs for a post player to go one on one.

True post players are rare as the game has evolved, but Truog — along with Brush senior Pharaoh Brown,RichmondHeightssenior Tommy Scales, VASJ junior Demonte Flannigan and NDCL junior Chris Shkil — have given the area a definitive presence in the paint.


“There are not a ton of back to the basket guys anymore, at least not the true low post players and that goes all the way to the NBA,” said Shane Kline-Ruminski, Director of Basketball Operations for The National Basketball Academy. “There are no Kevin Mchales, if you look at it. And in high school, big guys can’t look at the pros and say I wanna be like so and so in the NBA. There is no Hakeem Olajuwon or Patrick Ewing. Those type guys dominated low post position.”

Kline-Ruminski certainly knows what he is talking about when it comes to discussing true post players. The 1990 West Geauga graduate played four years at Bowling Green, where the 6-8, 210-pounder was named Mid-American Conference freshman of the year. Now, theNationalBasketballAcademyworks with 12 NBA teams, two WNBA teams and between 80 and 100 high school players, including a handful of post players.

As for the lack of true back-to-the-basket player at the high school level, Kline-Ruminski said there are several factors, including the evolution of the athlete and the game.

“The 6-8, 6-7 kids in the post don’t come along that often, but when they do, you can tell they have been developed at some point,” Kline-Ruminski said. “You can’t just stick them there. They have to learn how to play.

“The game has advanced. The game is so fast. Watch the NCAA tournament. Look at how quick these teams play. The dribble drive offense, dribble and kick out is popular now, so it is tough to develop the post player. Teams are not comfortable with post players.”

Brush has had a long line of playmakers at guard and wing in recent years, none more than 2009 News-Herald Player of the Year Nate Tait.

While there are still plenty of options on the outside for the Arcs, there is no denying the impact Brown (17 points, 11 rebounds per game) has made in the paint since coming over fromRichmondHeightsafter his freshman season.

“For us and the way we want to play, it’s huge having a guy like Pharaoh who is willing to play in the paint with his back to the basket,” Brush coach Jayson Macauda said of theOregonfootball recruit. “I can count every night on six or eight points — what I call garbage points — because of his offensive rebounding. We haven’t always had that presence, going back to the days when we had Nate Tait and some of those teams, we have had great guard play, but not always that big guy you can rely on.

“Only one team around here that I can think of that has gotten away consistently without having a true back-to-the-basket post presence for years (Mentor).”

Truog, a two-time CVC Chagrin MVP and third-team All-Ohio selection as a junior, said being 6-10 is obviously a natural gift and an advantage he can use in the post against most high school forwards or centers, but height alone is not enough.

Fine-tuning his skills not only helps the undefeated Bombers win games, it is a must after his highly decorated prep career is finished. Particularly because he knows life in the paint changes next year when he gets to the Division I college level.

“I’ve always been tall. I used to be skinny and shy away from playing down low, but as I’ve gotten stronger and more physical, I thrive in that position and I feel like the post is the place I am best suited for,” Truog said. “I was very uncoordinated early in my career, but as I got stronger and the more I worked on my footwork, now I am comfortable in the paint and confident I can help my team.

“You don’t always get the glory or the six 3-pointers in a quarter or score 40 points. There’s foul trouble to deal with and you get beat up and bruised, especially by the smaller teams. But you just have to keep your cool and do what you do best.”

The best doesn’t always come on the offensive end. Scales recently recorded a triple-double with 10 blocked shots against Kirtland and is a big reason the Spartans are state-ranked and 9-1.

Shkil is not as well known as the other aforementioned big men, but he is a player that Kline-Ruminski said has the potential to play Division I college basketball in the Ivy League.Flannigan has been among the best at his position since he stepped onto the storied floor at Viking Village in 2009. Flannigan was named All-Ohio as a freshman, and this year he is averaging 19.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.

Flannigan has the athleticism and the physical tools to play almost any position, but he enjoys playing with his back to the basket and trying to attack the opposition around the rim.

“I just have to be strong with the ball, and the post is where I can be most productive,” Flannigan said. “In seventh and eighth grade, I played the 2 or the 3 because I was able to handle the ball and beat the press. But since I got to VASJ, I have been the biggest man here, except now with freshman Carlton Bragg.

“One of the main things that changes the game is when you make a strong move in the post or dunk on someone, it can really get your team going.”


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