New Castle News

New Castle

April 7, 2014

The Doctor of Style: Hooker not state’s top player? He was robbed!

NEW CASTLE — There was a robbery Friday, and it affected the entire legion of New Castle High boys basketball fans.

Red Hurricane standout Malik Hooker earned first-team all-state honors in Class AAAA by the Associated Press. But he was somehow snubbed for the Player of the Year honor.

Hampton’s Ryan Luther won that distinction. Call it the lone loss of the season for New Castle, and the only way the Talbots could beat the ‘Canes: off the court.

Hooker was a slam-dunk first-team selection. A signature-series Hooker slam dunk, in fact.

The 6-foot-1 senior guard/forward and Ohio State University football recruit did everything imaginable to earn the Class AAAA honor. He scored a county-best 680 points in 31 games, good for a 21.9 points-per-game average — also tops in the county. He added 9.4 rebounds, 3.9 steals and a pair of blocks per matchup as well.

Hooker helped the ‘Canes to another undefeated regular season mark and a fourth-straight section crown, including third in a row outright. Hooker played a significant role in that.

New Castle topped that off with a third-straight WPIAL title as well. Hooker again was a vital piece to that puzzle.

Then there was the cherry on top, a 52-39 victory over La Salle College in Hershey in the PIAA championship, the first state title in the program’s history. It capped a 31-0 season as well.

Despite all those accomplishments by Hooker and his teammates, the Player of the Year honor came down to Hooker and Luther.

Luther averaged 21.8 points a game, a shade less than Hooker. Hooker helped New Castle to a 4-0 mark against Luther’s Talbots. Luther played in the last three meetings, missing the first matchup at Hampton with an ankle injury.

Luther finished at 7.8 boards a game this season.

No sweat, right? I mean, Hooker can back up every argument to be Player of the Year. He’s got the stats, the team accomplishments, and most importantly district and state gold. That’s a lethal triple threat.

Somehow, Luther emerged with the Player of the Year honor, while New Castle fans were left justifiably puzzled, and shortchanged.

Hooker won the first-place balloting over Luther (10-6), but Luther registered more total voting points (226-216).

How did Luther capture that prestigious distinction? What did he win? What did he do to sway the opinion in his favor?

Maybe the voting is like a big-market bias in pro sports leagues. If it was the NBA, you might hear complaints of a New York or Los Angeles big-market bias. Luther had the larger market of Pittsburgh working in his corner, if there’s any connection to the two.

That has to be the only explanation. Not that it’s valid.

Stacking the two head-to-head also reveals that Hooker has the edge over Luther, who is a 6-8 senior forward and Pitt recruit.

Hooker poured in 27 points in the ‘Canes’ 66-55 decision over Hampton in the section finale. Luther bucketed 28 markers and fouled out with 17.3 seconds to play, when Hooker was icing the game at the foul line.

Luther scored 21 points in the WPIAL championship game and Hooker was held to a season-low six markers. Hooker helped out in other areas with nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals.

“I thought Malik played really well,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said after that championship victory. “I’m one of those guys that believes if you do two out of the three biggest areas well, you played well. If you do all three well, you played great.

“He defended and rebounded tremendous. In my estimation, he played a really good basketball game. Some of the plays that he made, only Malik could make.”

Points aren’t everything, and Hooker proved if he wasn’t putting the ball in the basket that night, he could still make his presence felt. And he did.

Hooker scored 11 points n the state quarterfinal matchup, a 57-55 New Castle win. Luther managed 13 markers, but he played the whole game, Hooker didn’t. Hooker sat the entire second quarter because he got three first-quarter fouls. And Hooker still managed to come close to outscoring him.

With Hooker on the bench in the state quarterfinals, Luther should have dominated more than he did. In fact, he was shut out in the second half. Zero points in the final 16 minutes.

What did Hooker do in the final half in that matchup? He buried a 3-pointer just 25 seconds into the second half. Just his way of saying hello, I’m here. And I’m not going anywhere. Just what a player of the year would do.

Going scoreless like Luther did is something a player of the year wouldn’t do in an elimination game.

The tale of the tape points squarely in Hooker’s direction. Head-to-head scoring average, head-to-head performance, team success. Hooker is the Class AAAA Player of the Year. Well, he should have been. And the kicker is it’s not even a close race.

Hooker topped Luther to lead his team to a section championship. Hooker played a role in New Castle upending Hampton for the WPIAL championship. And one final opportunity at victory for Hampton was foiled in the state quarterfinals by, who else, Hooker and the ‘Canes.

Luther is a quality player. He makes coaches lives difficult. They’re forced to scheme on shutting him down, and then finding a way to make sure other players don’t have a huge night. Not many teams had that solution, five actually. New Castle four times and North Allegheny once as Hampton posted a 24-5 mark.

Luther had a nice season. Hooker had a great season.

Claiming a first-team all-state honor is something to be proud of and one Hooker certainly deserves. The Player of the Year award should have accompanied that for Hooker.

Luther walks away with the Player of the Year accolade as he gets ready for a career in the Atlantic Coast Conference with the Panthers. But, Hooker, the ‘Canes and their legion of fans have something much better — a season to remember that was capped off with a state championship.

Luther won a very small battle against New Castle and Hooker. It’s the only victory Hampton has to hold onto in a while against the ‘Canes.

Luther probably isn’t even the MVP of WPIAL Section 3 action, much less Player of the Year for the state. Hooker likely will claim the section’s MVP. At least he should.

I doubt Hampton will raise a banner for Luther’s Player of the Year honor. But take a ride over to New Castle High School sometime, the PIAA championship trophy will be sitting in the trophy case permanently. And WPIAL and PIAA championship banners will be raised at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House sometime next season.

A large reason those items will be there is because of what Hooker and his New Castle teammates did — together, against Luther, the Talbots and the rest of the state.

(The Doctor of Style, Ron Poniewasz Jr., is a sports writer at The News and covers the New Castle High basketball team.)

 

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