Wood spearheads T.F. North's title bid

Wood spearheads T.F. North's title bid
December 25, 2012, 4:54 pm
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Pressure is being told by your coach that if you average 35 points per game, your team will have a successful season.

That's what legendary coach Vergil Fletcher of Collinsville told Tom Parker in 1966-67.

Parker averaged 33 points per game and Collinsville went 24-3 and reached the sectional final.

Fast forward to 2012-13. Thornton Fractional North coach Tim Bankston, who once had 25 points and 12 rebounds in a state championship game and didn't make the all-tournament team, had a similar message for Nick Wood.

"He said I should get 20 points and 12 rebounds per game and we could win the state title," said Wood, a 6-foot-6 senior. "So I have to come out and play my A game every night, be a leader and stick their best big man.

"That's a lot of pressure. But I know I can do it. (Bankston) wouldn't put pressure on me if he didn't think I could do it. I know I have to put up more points to help my team win."

The Calumet City school has what it takes. Wood is one of five returning starters from a 15-14 squad that negotiated the toughest schedule in school history. The Meteors are 9-1, coming off an exhausting seven-games-in-nine-days marathon, and meet Normal Community on Wednesday in the opening round of the State Farm Classic in Bloomington.

"Last year wasn't indicative of how good the team was," Bankston said. "We played tough teams on the road and only a few got out of hand. Our kids had to mature. We put kids in the fire early and often. We knew we'd be good this year."

Bankston, one of the stars of Simeon's 1984 state championship team, has been preparing for this season. In 2007, his team was 29-2 but lost in the first round of the regional. In 2008, T.F. North was 19-11 but lost to state runner-up Simeon 43-40 in the supersectional.

"If we keep improving, we can be pretty good," he said. "Potentially, we can win it all. This team reminds me of 2008. We have seven players who can hurt you on any given night. On defense, they are tenacious. They have a don't quit attitude."

How's this for not giving up in the face of overwhelming odds? Trailing by four points at Plainfield North with 30 seconds to play and the home team with the ball in its hands, T.F. North was down to two sophomores, two juniors and a player who never had played basketball before. The first seven had fouled out. The Meteors won by two.

"That's the mark of this team," Bankston said. "They won't quit."

The coach said the effort is spearheaded by Wood, a Division I prospect who is averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds per game. He is complemented by two outstanding guards, 6-foot-1 senior Greg McClain (10 ppg) and 5-foot-11 senior D.J. Deere (12 ppg).

The other two starters are 6-foot-4 junior Quamaine Harris (6 ppg, 7
rpg) and 6-foot-4 senior Danye Coleman (4 ppg, 3 rpg). Punch off the bench
is provided by 6-foot-8 senior Marquise Todd (6 ppg, 3 blocks) and two
sophomores, 6-foot-1 Devante Henry and 5-foot-8 Sidqu Salazar.

"The strength of this team is defense," Bankston said. "I like the way they understand the game. They are one of the smartest teams I have coached. They know what needs to be done in certain situations. And they are unselfish."

T.F. North could get even better. Bankston hopes 6-foot-3 senior Ashanti Randolph will be declared eligible in January. An all-conference player who averaged 13 points pler game a year ago, he is battling academic issues.

"He could be our best player," the coach said. "If he is back, we are a state championship contender for sure. Without him, we'll have to see. What are the odds? Fifty-fifty."

What Bankston knows for sure is the players on the floor play hard and play together. "Sometimes that makes up for a lack of talent. We are a blue-collar team. We try to outwork you. We try to turn you over. There is no secret to what we do. If Harris and Coleman continue to get better and our sophomores don't get rattled when the pressure is on, we will do well," he said.

Wood agrees. He knows he is the team's standard-bearer, the one player who Bankston can count on every night. He averaged 14 points and seven rebounds last season. He worked hard in the off-season to prepare for the challenge, knowing more would be expected of him.

"I'm playing harder this year and being a leader," he said. "The ball comes through me a lot more. In the off-season, I got more physically and mentally tough to approach the game. All summer, I worked out and did basketball drills and spent time in the weight room. I'm a lot better now.

"People see that I can put the ball on the floor, that I'm shooting better, that I'm finishing around the basket better, that I'm stronger around the basket. In my mind, nobody can beat me around the boards even if they are 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9."

Wood acknowledges that the presence of Randolph would be a big plus and "bring a lot to the table. If he comes back, our chances are better. But even if he doesn't come back, we are contenders," he said.

"Last year, we had a new group. We were getting used to playing with each other, how to bring it all together. This year, we know all of our roles and how to play together. We have size and skill. We have role players who step in.

"What is our edge? It depends on how far Deere and I can take the team, if we can put them on our backs. We know the team looks to us to get us through. We know we have our own job to make the hard shot or be the leader. Leadership is the key to being successful."