Shane Johnson goes airborne and grabs a defensive rebound. When he lands, the 6-foot-3, 187-pound senior dribbles 15 feet upcourt and then makes a soft toss to teammate Patrick Mark.
It’s Thursday afternoon at General Shoemaker Gymnasium at Shoemaker High School and the Grey Wolves are engaged in an intra-squad scrimmage.
Moments after receiving Johnson’s pass, the 5-foot-6, ultra-fleet Mark is double-teamed. Mark still manages to speed upcourt while dribbling close to the sideline.
All the while, Mark’s teammate Nykolas Dawson is sprinting toward the hoop.
With two defenders still on him, Mark heaves a cross-court, on-the-money, no-look pass into the arms of Dawson who drops in the easy layup.
“Crazy pass!” beamed Dawson post-practice. “I can’t believe Patrick Mark even threw it because I didn’t think Patrick saw me.”
“The defense was pressing us hard on that play,” Mark said. “They were making us work hard. I just saw Dawson open in my peripheral view for a split-second.”
For Emund Prichett, Shoemaker’s first-year varsity head coach, that Johnson-to-Mark-to-Dawson play was telling.
“That pass told me that Patrick Mark has come a long way as a point guard,” Prichett said. “And just the fact that (three-year starter) Shane Johnson chose to outlet to Patrick lets me know that Patrick has earned Shane’s trust. Shane isn’t the type to necessarily ice anyone out. But he usually won’t throw it to anyone he doesn’t trust. And Nykolas Dawson has come a long way with his game, too. What we saw on that play we want a lot this year: get the rebound, get it to our point guard, get it out to the five (Dawson) and score. That’s better than any play we can run.”
The Grey Wolves open their 2013-2014 season tonight at home against Waco and Prichett has made it clear he’s banking heavily on this trio of seniors: Johnson, Mark and Dawson.
“Our goals are probably similar to every team in the state,” Prichett said. “Of course you want to win district first, get into the playoffs, make it to the regional tournament, make it to the state tournament and see what happens. There is no way we can achieve any of our goals without strong leadership from those three. What they do on the court as well as off the court will help determine whether we can achieve our goals.”
Johnson is clearly the franchise player.
“Coach has told the three of us that he’s counting on us to lead and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing,” Johnson said. “I actually had decided to be more of a leader this year on my own and then Coach gave me a lot of great talks about how to do that.”
Dawson will be making his debut as a starter tonight. In Thursday’s practice, Dawson was vocal with his teammates from start to finish.
“All of our guys, especially our younger guys, need to know how we go about doing things,” Dawson said.
Mark will also be making his first-ever career start tonight.
“I’m not nervous about starting my first game because Coach Prichett has prepared me for this moment,” Mark said. “As for leadership, Coach has talked to me a lot about that. All three of us, Shane, Nykolas and myself each have the mindset that we want to win and compete every night. To do that you must have strong leadership. It’s important the three of us make sure everybody is hustling, gets in the right spots. Coach told us that if he wasn’t here for a practice that we should be able to run it ourselves.”
Of course it’s tough to lead if one doesn’t have some talent, too. That isn’t an issue for Mark, Dawson nor Johnson. All three are skilled and each plays in-your-face suffocating defense.
Mark can shoot the 3, drive, dish and has don’t blink or you’ll miss him speed.
As for Dawson, Johnson said, “He’s a nonstop, hustling player who crashes the boards and sprints hard down the court.”
With regard to Johnson, Prichett said, “To me, he’s a Division I-type talent. He can play any position and play it with excellence.”
Shoemaker earned postseason playoff berths in each of the past two years, winning one contest in 2012 and suffering a first-round loss last season.
“But I don’t want to just make the playoffs this year,” Prichett said. “I want us to advance onward and make some noise in those playoffs. Our defense has been good, but it needs to be great. And we do need great leadership from Patrick Mark, Nykolas Dawson and Shane Johnson.”
“Yes,” Johnson said, “we know we’re the three seniors Coach is counting on — and we’re completely fine with that.”