Fans always remember who made the winning shot, but few remember who set that screen or delivered the textbook pass to the shooter’s shooting pocket. Key players are expected to do their thing, but the real difference in a game often comes from the role players.
“They are the difference between winning and losing,” said Eric Stockhausen, head coach of the Ketchikan High School Kings basketball team. “Last year we had our superstars but they aren’t the difference between the wins. They are going to do what they do and it’s what everyone else does that matters, that is the difference,”
Last season’s Kayhi Kings team had two all-state players, but seven senior role players.
For role players, it’s all about the little things coaches look for.
“You look back to Gavin Salazar where every time I put him in the game he got a deflection or a steal,” said Stockhausen. “He affected the game when we needed him to.”
Freshman JJ Parker is the current generation of role players. Parker has made the most of his limited playing time this year. Coach Stockhausen likes players such as Parker to come in and focus on competing, not necessarily scoring.
“I don’t really care about getting a lot of shots up,” said Parker. “That’s not what I’m in there for. I’m there to play really good defense and try and make as [few] mistakes as possible.”
With all the attention going to Kayhi’s now all-time leading scorer Chris Lee, it was freshman Joeben Lorenzo who hit the game-winning free throws to win the Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic tournament in December.
“It creates more openings when our role players become an offensive threat, like Joeben hitting those game winning free throws,” Stockhausen said.
Rising to the
The Kayhi Lady Kings went 1-3 against Juneau-Douglas High School during the 2018-19 regular season. Freshmen Jenae Rhoads was part of the rotation for the Lady Kings, but the team was led by senior Ashley Huffine and this season’s trio of seniors. At the 2019 Region V tournament, Rhoads stepped up.
She had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in the first game against Juneau-Douglas High School, which sent the Lady Bears to the loser’s bracket to reevaluate their game plan. Rhoads didn’t have another double-double, but was close and helped clinch the region championship.
Senior captain Nadire Zhuta said Rhoads has gone from role player to key player this season and has a big role on the team.
“If she doesn’t show up, we can’t win,” Zhuta said.
From role player to key player
Most role players can point to a game or a play that helped them develop the confidence they needed to carry the burden of being the star.
At the Region V tournament in 2018, it was Zhuta who was the x-factor that helped Kayhi beat Juneau.
Kayhi was led that season by seniors Hannah Maxwell and Brittany Slick, and then-junior Ashley Huffine, but it was sophomore Nadire Zhuta who did the damage. Zhuta scored 10 points in the first quarter and two more in the second quarter as Kayhi won the key first game against Juneau-Douglas and continued on to claim its fifth straight region championship.
“I made my first [3-pointer] and it felt good,” said Zhuta. “Then when the second one went in and the pep club went crazy, it’s really a feeling I can’t put into words. Then when I made my third one and the entire crowd was roaring and my teammates were going crazy for me, it was unbelievable.”
Current Kayhi senior captain Kristian Pihl was a situation shooter as a freshman.
“My role my freshmen year was just to basically show up everyday and have a positive attitude and be a good teammate and playing time was an afterthought,” Pihl said.
Pihl is certainly not an afterthought now. It was Pihl who hit the deep 3-pointer with 45 seconds left in overtime of the state championship game against Dimond last season to deliver Kayhi the title.
Like Zhuta, he and Chris Lee are now the focus of opposing coaches.
There are six Kayhi seniors (three boys, three girls) looking to end their careers by cutting down the nets in Juneau. While the focus will be on them, it’s what the role players do that will set them apart from the win.
“You don’t win championships or even games without role players,” said Kelly Smith, head coach of the Kayhi Lady Kings. “We've had some really good standout players, but you’re only as good as your role players.”
Dyllan Borer is a junior at Ketchikan High School and plans on attending Massachusetts Maritime Academy after graduation.