Kevin Hammarlund is a coach's dream and an opponent's worst nightmare. St. Viator's 6-foot-1 senior guard doesn't score points as much as he creates headaches. He wishes he were 6-foot-3, could shoot and play at Duke. But he knows that isn't to be. He is comfortable in his own skin.
"The most points I ever scored in a game was 28 as a freshman. My varsity high is 18 last year, 14 this year. I average only three to nine shots a game," he said. "I realize my role is to play defense and set screens and rebound and make steals, a little bit of everything."
Hammarlund averages nine points, five rebounds and at least one steal per game. He also takes four charges per game and usually limits the opponent's leading scorer to fewer than 10 points. He doesn't count floor burns or black-and-blue marks or bumps and bruises.
"I'm not a big statistics guy," he said. "I take pride in setting good screens for my teammates to get good shots. I've had at least one steal in every game. And my goal in every game is to help on team defense and hold the other team's good scorer under 10 points."
A two-year starter at wide receiver and free safety on the football team, Hammarlund will play football in college, probably at Washington University in St. Louis or Dayton, Butler or St. Thomas in Minnesota.
"I love both sports," he said. "Basketball is harder because I'm a shorter guard. I had a great chance to start in football last year and it led to being recruited by some schools. But I love basketball. I've been playing since I was 3. I wish I could play at Duke, but..."
But it won't happen. He will have to settle for trying to help St. Viator make history this season. The Arlington Heights school was 25-4 last year and lost to Mundelein in the sectional semifinal. The Lions have never been farther in the state tournament series. This year's goal is the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
"I've been at St. Viator for eight years and this can be the best team I have seen," two-year coach Mike Howland said. "We have five returning players who saw minutes last year. We know we are talented but we are younger than last year.
"We know we would have a learning curve. We know how to play together. Everyone knows their roles. We know who is good at what. We're starting to figure it out. We have a lot of firepower and a great group of guards. We can score in bunches. We're looking to make history this year."
St. Viator is 13-4 after losing to Lake Forest 66-53 on Tuesday. The Lions will face two severe tests when they face East Suburban Catholic rivals Marian Catholic and Tyler Ulis on Friday and Notre Dame on Saturday at the Sears Center. It won't get any easier next week when they meet Benet and New Trier.
Last week, St. Viator defeated Northridge Prep 65-55 as Ore Arogundade had 30 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals. In an 86-81 decision over Nazareth, Arogundade had 22 points and 11 rebounds while Mark Falitico had 24 points and seven assists, Patrick McNamara scored 17 points and Hammarlund had 15 points and eight rebounds.
Against Lake Forest (12-3), one of the top teams in the North Suburban, Hammarlund scored 14 points and Ore Aragundade had 13. But St. Viator couldn't contain Lake Forest's 6-foot-7 Evan Boudreaux, who had 25 points and 13 rebounds.
"This will be a fun stretch. Our conference is as good as it gets, loaded, a battle every night," Howland said. "We played our worst week of basketball at the Wheeling tournament at Christmas (they lost to Naperville Central and Niles North to finish fourth) but played our best basketball last week (beating Glenbrook North and Carmel).
"We're really good when we play together and share the ball. We have to play to our strengths...play defense, push the tempo, get stops and rebound well. I said at the beginning of the year that if we go far (in the state tournament) we must rebound the ball and give opponents one shot. When we do, we're good. When we dont, we're pretty average."
The lineup features Hammarlund, 6-foot-3 junior guard Arogundade (16 PPG, 8 RPG), 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard Falitico (13 PPG, 5 assists), 6-foot-2 senior guard Martin (10 PPG) and 6-foot-5 senior center Hugh Masterson (6 PPG, 7 RPG). Ore's brother, Mayo Arogundade 5 PPG), a 5-foot-11 senior point guard, and 6-foot-3 sophomore McNamara come off the bench.
Howland describes Hammarlund as "our do-everything guy, a winner, our intangibles guy. He doesn't need the basketball. He took five charges in one game. He is a difference-maker. He is our best defender. He takes the opponent's best player."
"My role? I do what the coach tells me. I do what it takes for this team to win," Hammarlund said. "I like to be known as a defensive player. I pride myself at working at the defensive end, trying to take their best player out of the game.
"And I like to bring energy. I make energy plays, charges and steals, that bring us easy baskets. It gets our crowd going and gives the team momentum. I'm not a stat guy. I see how many points my man got, if I was able to hold him to a low score."
Hammarlund came off the bench last year as St. Viator went 25-4 and won its first conference championship in more than 10 years. The Lions were undefeated in the conference and on their home floor. But the loss to Mundelein in the sectional semifinal was a big disappointment, something he and his teammates haven't forgotten.
"I thought we'd go much farther than that. We should have gone to the supersectional or downstate. I felt we were that good," he said. "But we have more talent this year. We have a lot of good players and we are playing as a team. We can be better than last year."
St. Viator lacks size -- as was clearly evident in the loss to Lake Forest -- but usually makes up for it with aggressiveness, balanced scoring and lockdown defense.
"We have a lot of positive energy and leadership on and off the court," Hammarlund said. "The seniors have played together for four years. Sure, we have concern when we play a bigger team. But we have athleticism with our guards and can pressure bigger players and make it tough for them to finish."