By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- On the surface, it might appear that Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy boys basketball coach Ron Combs made a downright strange decision midway through this season.
The Patriots opted to ditch most of their half-court offensive sets in favor of a more free-flowing, up-tempo style that promoted attacking the basket at each and every opportunity. That has been good news for SVCA's trio of talented freshmen guards Shyheem Gilkerson, Tyler Fincham and Aaron Sutton.
It didn't seem so promising for standout guard Evan Hotek, last year's leading scorer and again this season before the change in emphasis. The new-look Patriots meant less touches for Hotek, who relinquished the point guard spot to Gilkerson to shift over to the shooting guard position.
Might seem a odd move, considering Hotek's offensive production. Stranger still, perhaps, is that Hotek is one of the biggest fans of the move.
"We had to get used to me playing the two [guard] since we're trying to put [Gilkerson] at the one guard, so I've been running around screens and coming up top so I can catch the ball in the paint, turn and go at the base and get and-ones so I can get to the free-throw line," Hotek said. "It's been a pretty interesting transition, but so far it's been working."
When the need arises, Hotek can still fill up the net in a hurry for the Patriots. Last week was a prime example, as SVCA's game against Highland View Academy proved a showcase for Hotek as he piled up a career-high 43 points in an 86-82 road defeat. That effort made Hotek the Northern Virginia Daily's Male Athlete of the Week for Feb. 9-Feb. 15.
The 43-point outing topped his previous career high by a point, but Hotek could have had even more. He was just seven points shy of SVCA's single-game scoring record of 50 currently held by former standout Kervin Rameau.
"I got to the line a lot," Hotek said. "I made 19 free throws, so that helped a lot. I actually missed seven free throws, so I went 19 for 26. So if I'd hit those other seven free throws, I could've tied the school record."
Combs said Hotek has been struggling a bit with free throws this season, shooting in the 60-percent range after connecting in the 70s last season.
"Had he had some legs and made some foul shots, we'd have won that game," Combs said with a chuckle. "You can't scold him for making 43 points and missing foul shots."
Hotek had an instant impact at SVCA since joining the program last year after playing for the Front Royal Flames, where he set the home-school program's single-season scoring record while averaging around 25 points as a sophomore.
"I played there from eighth grade through sophomore year," Hotek said of the Flames. "That's where I got a few of my moves and a lot of experience."
Hotek had to shoulder even more of the scoring load last year, which he did just fine by averaging about 25 points per game. He's not scoring quite so much now, but the Patriots have become a much better team as the season has progressed from earning lumps and learning lessons against much bigger public-school competition to blowing past most of their private-school opponents now. SVCA is set to host United Christian in tonight's Virginia Association of Christian Athletics (VACA) regional semifinals tonight.
"Last year we had two guards that could really shoot, but they weren't so much on handling the ball," Hotek said. "Now we've got guys who can shoot and handle the ball. Really, it takes some pressure off me. Last year I was averaging 23, 24 points a game -- this year I'm only averaging about 20. It takes a load off me so I can dish more and become more of a team player than I could be last year."
Combs appreciates Hotek's willingness to adapt, and the Patriots have used his versatility to better advantage.
"With him not having to control the ball and generate offense, that really helps me to run him wherever," Combs said. "I can put him at the post because he's got a great vertical and he can jump really well. Bringing him off the post has kind of been a hidden thing."
If teams do wise up and manage to slow down the Patriots, Hotek is always ready to attack from the half-court set.
"It depends on the defense they play," Hotek said. "Most nights we're run-and-gun, so everybody gets involved. But when it's slow-down and I get to the spot to get a one-on-one and I get my options, that's when I intend to score a little bit more."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>