Bellevue West is back on the top of Class A boys basketball For the first time since 2005 and a trio of Thunderbirds led the climb to the top.
The trio of Malik Hluchoweckyj, CJ Johnson and Christian Hatterle headline the 2014 Class A All-In The Game boys team. Aaron Rothermund of Papillion-La Vista South and Tyler Dougherty of Papillion-La Vista round out the first team.
The three T-birds led West through a roller-coaster of a season on their way to the title, playing their best at the end of the year. As the sixth-seed in the tourney and matched-up with four-time defending champion Omaha Central, few expected them to get past the first round. But led by their top three, West was able to put together its best three-game stretch of the season.
“Maybe we weren't the odds-on favorite, but I've believed all along this tourney was wide open, ” West coach Doug Woodard said. “This was the first time in six years we had three double figure scorers on the team and it was exciting to see them grow and learn to trust each other.”
Malik Hluchoweckyj - The high-rising junior led the charge for West in the state tournament, showing the state that he's one of the best players in Nebraska. Hluchoweckyj led West in scoring in all three of their tournament wins by scoring 23, 19 and 18 in the three state games, including hitting multiple clutch shot the Thunderbirds needed.
Hluchoweckyj finished the season averaging 14 points a game following a hot stretch in the last five game of the year where he averaged 21 points and shot better that 50 percent from the floor.
“Malik is extremely athletic with great scoring ability,” Woodard said. “He really made good decisions and played at a very high level for us down the stretch.”
The 6-0 guard showed his great athleticism on multiple occasions on the big-time stage of state, capped off my an acrobatic tip-in in the finals to put the T-birds ahead for go and put an explanation point on Bellevue West's state championship season.
After teammate Johnson got a steal and missed a layup hard off the backboard, Hluchoweckyj grabbed the rebound with his right hand, reversed his body and tipped the ball in with his left while his back was to the basket.
“A tremendous play, ” Woodard said about the tip-in. “Just an unbelievable, athletic play.”'
CJ Johnson - After a switch from wing to point guard, Johnson and Bellevue West's season took off. Johnson showed his ability to run an offense and averaged about seven assists a game from the time of the switch to the end of the season. The 6-2 guard was great at getting everyone involved and still managed to score just over 11 points per game.
“He's a great facilitator and defender,” Woodard said. “He sees the whole floor and played well at point guard for us.”
Johnson was also the go-to guy for the T-birds down the stretch when they needed clutch free throws to close out a win. He connected on 76 percent from the line during the season and was clutch through Bellevue West's two narrow wins at state.
Combining with fellow junior Hluchoweckyj, the T-birds had one of the most dangerous, athletic backcourts in the state and with both returning next year, a repeat state championship is well with their grasp.
Christian Hatterle - At 6-7, Hatterle was West's force down low. Despite being a post play, the senior did everything well. He could finish at the hoop, hit jumpers, break the press, rebound and was a reliable free throw shooter.
What may have got lost watching Hatterle play is how well he played on the defensive end of the floor.
“Christian became one of best post defenders in the state by the end of the season,” Woodard said. “He would have such an impact on the game for us, even if he wasn't scoring.”
Hatterle was usually scoring, though, averaging 11 a game to go with almost eight rebounds. He also added senior leadership to a team with just two seniors in the starting line-up by the end of the year. Hatterle is the lone senior member on the Class A All-ITG first team.
Aaron Rothermund - After a solid year as a sophomore, Rothermund came into his own this year as a junior. He poured in 14.7 points per game to pace a team that needed him to score every game. He is known for his long-range shooting but has added to his offensive attack
The thing that Titan coach Joel Hueser likes about hit leading score the most is his team-first attitude.
“Aaron is a great teammate first and foremost,” Hueser said. “He continues to improve his scoring ability. We know he can shoot it, but this year he also added a post-up game to his strengths.”
The 6-1 shooting guard is one of the best scoring threats in the area and with another year under his belt, he figures to be quite a handful for opposing defenses next year.
Tyler Dougherty - Dougherty had a lot of pressure on his shoulders coming into the season as the only returning regular from a Class A runner-up team a year ago. But with a back injury derailing his season early on, it took until about February for the junior to finally get in his groove. Down the stretch of the season the 6-6 forward led the Monarchs to the district finals, where they fell short to Westside.
He finished the year scoring 11 points a game and pulling down almost eight rebounds. .
“Tyler is a great player and the last two weeks, he's looked like the guy we expected at the start of the season, ” Monarch coach Dan Moore said after Papio's season-ending loss to Westside.
The Class A All-ITG second team consists of Austin Moor e of Bellevue West, Trevor Lenear of Bellevue East, Akot Riak and Warol Gatdit of Bryan and Caleb Piatkowski of Papillion-La Vista.