Boys basketball: Justin King turning into Bowman’s leader
By Tommy Williams Post-Tribune correspondent March 4, 2013 5:20PM
Bowman Academy's Justin King makes a layup over Bishop Noll's Tyreon Gares (far left) during the Wheeler boys basketball sectional championship game held at Wheeler High School on Saturday March 2, 2013. | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 6, 2013 6:23AM
GARY — Bowman coach Marvin Rea had been waiting for his King’s fortune to come, and at halftime of the Wheeler Sectional final against Bishop Noll, it finally did.
The Eagles, trailing by four at halftime when Rea, in the process of verbally lighting up his team, heard something they needed to hear.
Justin King went Terrell Owens on the Eagles — in a good way.
“He just said, ‘Hey coach, just give me the ball,’” Rea said. “He said ‘I have a mismatch underneath and I know they can’t stop me, so give me the ball.’ Normally I have to tell him to go to the block, but this time I didn’t have to ask him.”
A strong second half on both sides of the floor and 24 points (including nine of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter) later, the Eagles had a come from behind for a 76-63 win and Rea found a new team leader, something that wasn’t a problem for the Eagles in the past.
You see, up until this year the Eagles relied on a guy named DeJuan Marrero, who was the face and leader of the Eagles since putting up monster numbers in Bowman’s state title win over Barr Reeve in 2010.
King’s introduction to big-boy basketball came from having to practice against the now graduated Marrero, as well as fellow big men Elijah Ray and Stephen Hawkins, five painful days a week.
“One day at practice I was going up against Rico (Marrero) and he busted my lip and I had to get stitches,” King said. “We were going hard at practice and I did what I could to stop him.”
If this were a movie, King would use the experience to immediately blossom into the player Rea wanted him to become, one who would lead by example both in games and in practice.
“I learned I have to be tough and I had to have heart,” King said. “And I had to be mentally tough to play for Coach Marvin.”
Point well taken, but this movie would need a few more episodes before the potential happy ending.
“I have to be honest, I was beginning to question whether Justin practicing with the older players was effective for him,” Rea said. “But here in the postseason, he has really stepped it up.”
But it was King’s physical talents that came in handy after the Eagles lost their first four games of the season, thanks to an ineffective backcourt. It turned out to be King’s versatility that helped turn the season turn around.
“After we lost to Indianapolis North Central we had to make some personnel changes and asked him to play the point,” Rea said. “He did it with no problem at all.”
Rea repositioning his King proved to be a checkmate for the Eagles, with the 6-6 junior leading the Eagles to 14 wins in their next 19 games, including the Wheeler Sectional title.
“We used to rely on the seniors on the team, but now they rely on me,” King said. “So things have changed.”
And some things haven’t, like a Bowman appearance in the regionals, something that has happened four of the last five years. But this is the first without Marrero’s stamp on it.
And while Bowman has some skilled players, most notably Antonio Pipkin and Arthur Haggard (the son of the former Lew Wallace football standout who had 15 in the Noll win), Rea knows that the growth of one particular Eagle played a role in why his team is, in his words, as mentally tough as any other team he’s coached at Bowman.
“At the beginning he thought being a leader meant shooting a lot,” Rea said of King. “But he’s found out that being a leader means taking a charge, hitting clutch free throws and being the guy in the front of the line during wind sprints in practice.
“If Justin keeps doing the things he’s been doing, being a vocal leader and leading by example, we should make a decent run.”