A lot of teenagers experience a growth spurt during high school.
Joe Schwartz topped out at 6-foot-3, but the Vanguard senior’s growth can’t really be seen on a simple measurement chart or some pencil marks on the doorjamb. By his own admission, he matured as much mentally and emotionally as he did physically.
“His freshman year if you would told me that he was going to be the intangible guy and the leader that he was as a senior, I would have told you that you were crazy. OK?” Vanguard coach Will Curtis said. “But his maturation and his growth from ninth grade to 12th grade was amazing.”
The Vikings piggy-backed Schwartz to 29 wins, a No. 1 regular-season ranking in TAPPS Class 2A and a trip to the state semifinals. He shouldered a massive load but was up to the task, and now claims the Super Centex Player of the Year honor to go along with a U-Haul full of awards that includes the District MVP and first-team all-state superlatives.
Schwartz had to adapt throughout his on-court evolution during high school, because each year he adopted different responsibilities. From end-of-the-bench cheerleader as a freshman varsity call-up through his development as a go-to scorer all the way to his metamorphosis as a locker-room general this season, no one season mirrored another for Schwartz.
“I realized that last year that our chemistry was great and a lot of that was because of my brother,” said Joe, referring to his older brother Jake, a senior point guard on Vanguard’s 2013 TAPPS state finalist team. “So I figured this year it had to start with chemistry. On the court, I just went out and played as hard as I could, because I’ve always done that and that was the way I was taught to play the game. Off the court, it was just making sure there are no wrinkles in team chemistry.”
When he wasn’t tinkering around in the locker room chemistry lab, Schwartz was breezing through the multiplication tables on the court. The versatile forward racked up big numbers without the aid of a calculator, averaging 18.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.9 steals for the Vikings, who had 21 wins of more than 20 points.
“Quite frankly, some of that was in a half of play,” Curtis said. “We had some games where we were up so big that we didn’t want to embarrass people, so he’s got to come out of the game. And still you look up and his stat line is 35 (points) and 18 (rebounds). In 16 to 20 minutes of basketball, that’s pretty impressive. He led the team in about every possible way you could lead a team.”
Schwartz navigated Vanguard back to familiar territory at the TAPPS state tournament, but the Vikings’ title dreams ended in a cold-shooting loss to Abilene Christian in the state semifinals.
Schwartz hasn’t completely finalized his post-graduation plans, though he’s seriously considering attending the University of Texas and trying to make the Longhorns as a walk-on. Or he may end up hanging up his high-tops and just be a student, and he’s fine with that.
This self-described former “wild kid” as a junior high and freshman student has a far more mature perspective on things today.
“During the state semifinal game, I looked up and knew there was nothing else I could do,” Schwartz said. “I wasn’t going to go through the line and start cussing at the other players, because they deserve it. They beat us because they played better that night. It was fun playing against them, but I know I have more next year and the years to come.”
Coach of the year
Most coaches spot the light bulb flicker within their team during some string of great successes. Waco High’s John Weeks, meanwhile, knew his team was going to be just fine even after starting the season 1-3.
Weeks’ team could win a staring contest with adversity any day of the week. The Lions didn’t possess a single player taller than 6-foot-2 on their roster, not after 6-foot-8 Marques Smith, a 2013 Super Centex performer, transferred to China Spring last summer. Another all-district standout, D.J. Scott, broke his leg during football season and missed the entire basketball campaign.
In spite of it all, Waco High won 22 games, finished second in the ultra-competitive District 8-4A and made the program’s deepest playoff run in nearly a decade. For Weeks, the architect of this surprise construction project, the reward is the Trib’s Super Centex Coach of the Year honor.
“I automatically knew that it was there,” Weeks said. “Because a lot of teams start out 1-3 and there’s going to be panic or a letup in practice or there’s going to be people complaining. But after our 1-3 start, (seniors Justin McCreary and Matt McGowan) took control and got everybody calm and relaxed and made sure that practices were strong and fast and competitive. So at that point I knew we finally had real senior leadership.”
When it comes to taking credit, Weeks is a natural point guard, dishing it out and delivering it into the hands of those around him. During an 11-minute interview last week, he at various points praised his players, assistant coaches, the Waco High parents, Lions football coach Marty Herbst and Waco ISD athletic director Johnny Tusa, among others.
But it was Weeks who had the foresight — and bravery — to install a frenetic system built around putting up rapid-fire shots before setting up for a unique full-court press that purposefully left one opposing player open near their own offensive basket.
Truth be told, it was a style near and dear to this basketball lover’s soul, and the Lions’ fleet-footed soles.
“My first couple of years we had some height and some length and didn’t have the ability to do that (up-tempo style),” Week said. “All that height graduated or left, so it was easy to go back to it because it was something I was comfortable with. I enjoyed doing it. It’s more fun to coach that way, it’s more fun for the players.”
With the likes of McGowan, McCreary and super-sub Tyler Taylor graduating, the Lions will have a leadership void to fill next year. But Weeks is heartened by what he’s seen from his 2014-15 nucleus. After losing to Crowley in the regional quarterfinals, the Lions took three days off before resuming practices.
And to time the pace of one of those practices, you’d need a stopwatch.
“I believe if we keep working as hard as we have since we lost our playoff game, we’ll be fine,” Weeks aid. “Our kids are hungry. If you work that hard, which they do, I think it leads to wins.”
Newcomer of the year
If your name is Kobe, you figure you’d be born to play basketball.
Frost’s Kobe Hailey believes that to be true. And while Hailey still has a long way to go to reach the level of future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, he’s at least off to a fantastic start to his high school career.
Hailey, the Super Centex Newcomer of the Year, took off in his first varsity season. The 5-11 freshman guard averaged a team-leading 16.7 points to go with 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, showing an affinity for taking the ball fearlessly to the hoop.
“That was one of Kobe’s strengths,” said former Frost coach Eric Blenden, now the athletic director at Valley Mills. “If he hit a couple of threes and someone tried guarding him too close, he’d be able to take them off the dribble and go get a basket or an ‘and-one.’ ”
“I love contact,” Hailey said. “The thing I still need to work on is my ballhandling and my free throws, becoming a better shooter when I go to the line.”
Hailey said he inherited his hoops passion from his father, who also played basketball at Frost.
And, yes, his namesake is that other Kobe. In fact, his middle name is Bryant.
“I’ve always followed his career and looked up to him,” Hailey said.
“We always gave him grief about that,” Blenden said. “We told him that while Kobe (Bryant’s) career is ending, that his is just starting.”
2014 SUPER CENTEX BOYS’ BASKETBALL TEAM
Player of the Year: Joe Schwartz, Vanguard
Newcomer of the Year: Kobe Hailey, Frost
Coach of the Year: John Weeks, Waco High
Pos Player Ht Cl School
G Justin McCreary 6-1 Sr Waco High
G Matthew McGowan 5-9 Sr Waco High
G Lukas Brown 6-2 Sr Connally
G Marquise Womack 6-2 Sr Marlin
F Brandon Benson 6-3 So La Vega
F Joe Schwartz 6-3 Sr Vanguard
F Bryson Gates 6-4 Sr Fairfield
P Trevian Medlock 6-3 Jr Mart
P Devonte Henderson 6-4 Sr Rapoport
P Marques Smith 6-8 Sr China Spring
P Garrett Vannatta 6-8 Sr Valley Mills
P Damion Mathews 6-4 Sr Mexia
G Brady Chamberlain 5-11 Jr Blum
G Jarred Shaffer 6-1 Jr Blum
G Kaylon Watson 6-1 Sr Mexia
G Tyler Sawyer 6-1 So Vanguard
G Blaine Listach 5-9 Jr Rapoport
G Tyler Taylor 5-9 Sr Waco High
G Paul Humphrey 5-8 Jr Marlin
G Mack Kimble 6-1 Sr Connally
F C.J. Collins 6-5 Sr Bosqueville
F Kyle Whitley 6-3 Sr Troy
F C.J. Taylor 6-3 Sr Method. Home
P LaVictor McKnight 6-4 Sr Mexia
Honorable mention: Josh Elmore, China Spring; Chris Lide, Fairfield; Kedrick James, Amariye Blunson and Parrish Cobb, La Vega; Grant Linnstaedter, Lorena; Jordan Phillips, Methodist Home; Curk Harris, Mexia; Wyatt Darden, Reicher; Jacob Fuentes and Josh Lockhart, Robinson; Matt Ford, Chance Oliver and Rylan Cox, Troy; Blake Janek, Valley Mills; Davis Boehm and Dan Hibbs, Vanguard
17-3A tri-offensive MVP tallied 13.6 ppg, 8 rpg for Cadets
Sr, Waco HS
Swingman averaged team-best 14.8 points for Waco High
Sr, Waco HS
Put up 13.2 points, 4.8 steals; Lions’ top outside marksman
One of best scorers (21 ppg), Womack sparked playoff run
So, La Vega
17-3A MVP tossed in 12 ppg, 9 rpg for outright district champions
19-3A co-MVP proved beastly on blocks, putting up 14 ppg
Well-rounded veteran led run to TAPPS state semifinals
Automatic around basket, he averaged 19.8 ppg, with 67% FG
19-3A offensive MVP at his best vs. Yates in regionals
Big man averaged double-double (20.1 ppg, 11.2 rpg)
Repeat first-teamer dominated post, to tune of 16.6 ppg, 13.7 rpg
12-1A MVP stepped up his efforts in playoffs, averaging 30 ppg
Newcomer offered sharp-shooting for Polar Bears
Directed program’s deepest run in decade despite losing top scorers from 2013.