By JUSTIN RAINS
Grapeland junior Patrick Walker can score the basketball. That was never a secret.
Early in the season, Walker routinely put up 25-or-more points and, most of the time, the Sandies won.
But, as the season wound down and the playoffs loomed, Walker took on another role: All-around leader.
The junior didn’t combine for 30 points in the Sandies’ first two playoff victories, and still the Sandies won.
“You always knew the kid could score 30 every night,” first-year coach Owen Clifton said. “But to get where we wanted to go, it wasn’t going to be enough.”
Grapeland kept winning, all the way to the regional final, with Walker as its centerpiece. For his play during the 2012-2013 season, Walker has been named the Dogwood Circle boys’ basketball Player of the Year.
He had help this past year, to be sure. The addition of Jacolby Simpson — a fellow Dogwood Circle first-teamer — helped take some of the scoring load off of Walker’s shoulders.
But, Walker still managed to up his contributions, adding to his game in a different way.
“I was just trying to be a leader and help the other guys get points,” Walker said.
The year he put up, statistically, seems almost unreal. Along with his 23.8 points per game, Walker averaged seven assists. So, Walker had a hand in almost 38 points per game for the Sandies.
He also pulled down almost nine rebounds per game and swiped five steals per contest.
That’s where Clifton saw the biggest improvement from his star, on the defensive end of the floor.
“He kind of jokingly said, ‘Coach, I don’t really play too much defense,’” Clifton said. “I said, ‘Well, we’re going to change that.’ We wanted to full-court press a lot, and he’s so quick that he had to be the leader on that.
“He did a great job with it, and I really feel like his defensive game grew a lot.”
This growth allowed Walker to be a more complete player, and allowed him to constantly guard the best guard that Grapeland’s opponents had to offer.
That growth also helped lead the Sandies on the deepest playoff run the school had seen in Walker’s time on the court. It was the third-straight regional tournament for the Sandies, but the first regional final.
Grapeland fell to San Augustine, 92-77, in that regional final, but with the core of their team coming back are expected to challenge for a regional title once again next year.
As for that playoff loss, it’s not leaving Walker’s memory.
“We just have to play every game like it’s your last,” he said of next year’s mentality and what he takes from that loss. “It’ll make me work hard this summer.”
Clifton repeatedly talks about Walker’s desire to win and worry about nothing else, something somewhat rare in the modern athlete.
“He’s a great kid to coach, because he really just wants to win,” Clifton said. “I remember a playoff game, and we were really getting on a roll...and he’s scoring a whole lot, and we get to the playoffs and in the first game I think he had 13 points and 12 assists.”
It seems to be real. When asked about his thoughts on his great statistics from the past year, Walker revealed that he didn’t even know what they were until after the season, when Clifton told him about them.
“I really never looked at it, until (coach Clifton) told me,” Walker said of his stats. “I was just playing to win most of the time.”
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Damiyne Durham, Oakwood
It’s no secret to anyone around East Texas basketball that Oakwood junior Damiyne Durham is an elite-level scorer.
In his first two years at Oakwood, the 6-foot, 7-inch Durham averaged more than 20 points per game, but the Panthers failed to make much of a run once the playoffs came around.
This past year, Durham took another step in his game and took his team with him.
Durham averaged an area-best 27.6 points per game for the Panthers, who were knocked out of the playoffs by district-rival Douglass in the regional final.
Durham also averaged almost three assists per game, meaning he contributed almost 34 points to Oakwood each time the Panthers took the court.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Dra Ross, Westwood
Westwood senior Dra Ross isn’t an elite-level defender in the general sense of the word.
It’s not that Ross had outrageous defensive numbers, and that’s what made him stand-out on the defensive end of the floor. But, what he meant for the Westwood defense as a whole proved his defensive worth.
In a defensive scheme that was heavily zone-based, Ross provided size on the inside for the drastically undersized Panthers.
He routinely matched up against the opponent’s center, and his 11 rebounds per game prove that he did his job quite well.
He also managed to average a team-high 13 points per game en route to being named District 19-2A’s Defensive MVP as the Panthers captured the district title.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
Jaques Faulk, Grapeland
Grapeland freshman Jaques Faulk was no stranger to the pressures of varsity athletics when he first began taking on a major role on the Sandies’ basketball team.
Faulk spent significant time under center for Grapeland’s football team in his freshman year, but he made a giant leap on the basketball floor.
The freshman point guard averaged more than eight points and almost five assists per game for the Sandies, who lived inside the state’s top-five for most of the season.
Faulk continued his role as starting point guard in the playoffs, helping the Sandies all the way to the regional final.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Bret Botard, Palestine
Heading into the 2012-2013 season, the Palestine boys’ basketball team’s postseason drought was at seven years. It had been eight years since they won a playoff game.
Under third-year coach Bret Botard, the Wildcats made the leap to the playoffs this past season, proving that the hardships of his first two years were worth it, building up his program.
It’s primed to continue on, with the Wildcats graduating only one senior from this year’s team, which exceeded expectations when the Wildcats were able to knock off Jasper in the bi-district round of the playoffs.
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at email@example.com
Big School (3A/2A) 1st Team
G: Jacob Cheatham, Sr., Elkhart — Known more for his baseball, Cheatham owned a scorers touch for the playoff-bound Elks, averaging team-high 14.8 points per game.
G: L.J. Hutchison, Sr., WHS — All season, the Westwood offensive ran through Hutchison, who’s 9 points and 7 assists per game led the Panthers to the regional semifinals.
G: Corey Warren, Sr., Frankston — Frankston’s best player and the 18-2A co-MVP, Warren averaged 17.5 points, seven boards and five assists per game.
F: Dra Ross, Sr., WHS — The constant inside for the Panthers, Ross earned 19-2A MVP honors after averaging a double-double (13 points/11 rebounds) this season.
F: Shumauri Scott, Sr., PHS — The lone senior on the Wildcats’ roster, Scott led Palestine back to the postseason, averaging 10. 5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
Small School (1A) 1st Team
G: Preston Anderson, Sr., Cayuga — The Hartford-bound senior led Cayuga in scoring (24 ppg), rebounding (7 rpg) and assists (5 apg) en route to district MVP honors.
G: Damiyne Durham, Jr., OHS — The area’s most prolific scorer, Durham’s 27.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game led Oakwood to the Region IV final.
G: Patrick Walker, Jr., GHS — Walker filled up the stat sheet for the Sandies, averaging 23.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals per game en route to the regional final.
F: Deon Shofner, Sr., CHS — The inside threat to Anderson’s outside game, Shofner averaged 17 points and 6 rebounds per game for Cayuga.
F: Jacolby Simpson, Jr., GHS — Grapeland’s newcomer gave the Sandies an inside presence, and he averaged 15 points and almost 6 rebounds per game.
Big School 2nd Team
G: Cole Bridges, Sr., EHS
G: Chris Thompson, Sr., WHS
G: J.J. Turner, Jr., WHS
F: Tye Griffin, Sr., FHS
F: Ben Luckett, Jr., PHS
Small School 2nd Team
G: Connor Dickson, Soph., Slocum
G: Jaques Faulk, Fr., GHS
G: Bryson Randle, Sr., OHS
F: Shaquille Caldwell, Sr., OHS
F: Jacquez Anderson, Jr., OHS
Chandler Rigdon (CAYUGA); Luke Hollingsworth, Brian Johnson (ELKHART); Ozzie Buckner, Kendrick Rogers (FRANKSTON); Gee Clark, Jarrell Owens, Sheldon Watson (PALESTINE); Josh Denby (WESTWOOD);
Editor’s Note: Players were required to be nominated by their respective coaches to be eligible for selection to the team. Nominations from Neches were not received