During a season of tribulation for the four Putnam County boys basketball programs, two individuals set career marks within two weeks of each other and gave a bright backdrop to the turbulent season.
Greencastle's Brennan Burks and Cloverdale's Craig Blair proved why both are leaders of their respective squads. Both players eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for their career in mid-January and gave fans something to cheer about.
"He's been one of these kids who's just been a pleasure to be around. Not only for basketball but he's just a great kid. He has life in perspective in a way that he's a well-rounded kid," GHS head coach Troy Greenlee expressed.
Burks provides solid stats across the board for the Tiger Cubs. He averages more than 40 percent from the field as well as a respectable 77 percent from the free throw line.
In the final home game, which was senior night, it was announced that Burks plans to major in journalism and Greenlee believes that anything he puts his mind to, Burks will experience nothing but success.
"He really works hard at the game of basketball, but he also has his academics in check and everything else you hope a young man does. It's been a pleasure to coach him and I know he's going to be successful from here on out," he said.
Leadership is something teams must have to achieve any level of success and the Tiger Cubs have a great one in Burks, a player who leads by example and expects those involved to raise their level of play to attain their goals. Greenlee acknowledged that Burks plays an intricate part of the Tiger Cubs' plans.
"In some ways we've gone how Brennan's gone and he gives us a big lift with his play. I think the other guys look up to him to be that guy on the floor to kinda say 'hey what do we need to', so I think he's been a very good leader. He's worked hard and kids pick up on that and he's been vocal kid that tries to encourage his teammates," Greenlee commented.
Cloverdale head coach Pat Rady makes it obvious to everyone that the game of basketball is a team effort and rarely singles out individual players but he was more than happy to speak of Blair's accomplishments.
Where Greencastle's Burks is an inside dominator, Blair is a speedy, slashing guard who keeps opposing defense on their heels. Even though he stays within the system, Blair has the ability to make his own fortune by hitting the outside shot or leaving a trail of defenders in his wake.
Blair throws in 23 points a game for the Clovers while collecting four assists, five rebounds and three steals per contest. Blair also connects on 42 percent of his shots from the field, including 52 percent from inside the arc.
Most players would know down to the point how close they were to recording their 1,000th career point, but Blair had to be told of his accomplishments. Blair had a Hollywood-type scenario in which he recorded his feat as Cloverdale hosted and defeated South Putnam for senior night and homecoming, but Blair was informed of his success following the game.
"It was just a pleasure to see a player achieve that and not officially know he's done it," Rady said. "When we called him in, he said he knew he was getting close. That was really a breath of fresh air to see a player to accept that. In this day, I think you see a lot of players who are strictly concerned with individual goals and the team doesn't come first and I think this is an example of where he has the team first and any individual honors (that) come his way are fine."
Rady spoke about Blair's season and his numerous accomplishments but was quick to point out that his parents play a significant role in his success. Rady is also confident that the leadership and his willingness to put the team before himself will translate into future triumphs at Cloverdale.
"I was very happy for him for a young man of his age to be so humble about it was very gratifying and I think you need to give credit to the parents as well," he said. "To see parents accept it like they have has been very rewarding as well. It's been a very uplifting situation for me to see this from both parent and player and I'm happy for the Blair family and especially Craig because he's given me an awful lot for four years.
"You hate to see kids like that go but he's set an example that we can use down the road for future players at Cloverdale," Rady concluded.
The Tiger Cubs and Clovers will attempt to extend their seasons as they open tournament play this week. Cloverdale will face Speedway at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the South Putnam Class 2A Sectional, while Greencastle will take on Edgewood at 7:30 p.m.Wednesday at the Class 3A Edgewood Sectional.