By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News —
Without Ian Gilhousen this season the North Tonawanda boys basketball team is 1-4. With him, it has gone 5-2 and strung together five-straight NFL victories over the course of a month earlier this season.
NT coach Ryan Mountain said that while Gilhousen recovered from an early-season illness, his team was able to come together. He even added that it may have been a blessing in disguise.
"There's no substitute for hard work and athleticism and Ian gives us that, but he also gives our team belief," Mountain said. "We look to him as the obvious leader and he gives us a belief that we can win games. We did such a nice job coming together without him. It gave other guys minutes for growth and now with Ian he's giving us about 15 points a game (currently averaging 12.9) and a lot of athleticism in transition. You have to account for that on the defensive end."
Watching his team go to battle without him took a toll on Gilhousen, who attended every practice while he recovered to help stay mentally sharp. The team's slow start made him even hungrier to get back on the court.
Before he returned against Kenmore West on Dec. 18, he demonstrated his leadership abilities from the bench.
"I wanted to get the journey going with everybody and it was tough watching on the sidelines," he said. "I was trying to be a motivator, not just for myself but the team in little things like drills and telling them what they should do right. Just being there for them and help coaching them up. I've been doing this for almost three years now and I know what it takes to get everybody ready."
And everybody on the team looks up to Gilhousen, maybe none more than his good friend, point guard Nehemiah Stone, who has looked up to Gilhousen his entire career. The sophomore tried to offer up his spot as the T-NT football game's MVP to Gilhousen, giving him all the credit for the win.
Gilhousen drives Stone home from practice every day and tries to set a good example for the young athlete, who is already making an impact on the court just as he did in the fall on the gridiron.
Mountain said Gilhousen learned how to lead from the seniors that graduated last year.
"The guys really look to Ian as the man and as their leader," he said. "It's been a big step for him and it's not easy being the main senior on the team, in terms of experience. He's out there with a younger team, but last year he was the young kid coming off the bench. He was fortunate to play behind nine seniors last year to help him along in the growth process and we want to continue that process throughout our program."
Gilhousen has bought into the team philosophy: that preparation is the key to success, and he said he's noticed the team increase its focus level steadily throughout the season. The team's goal is to take advantage of every opportunity and try to win every game left on the schedule to secure a good spot in sectionals.
The senior is treating every game like his last and he's playing with a heightened sense of desperation, because he knows what it feels like to have to sit out and watch.
Mountain is confident Gilhousen can lead the Jacks where they want to go.
"I just think Ian is the perfect example of what the standards are in this program: unselfish, servant leader, extremely hard working, team attitude and everything just channels through him," he said. "He's not allowed to take a second off in practice because if your best player isn't your hardest worker you're not going to be (very good)."GAME SPOTLIGHT WHO: Kenmore West at North Tonawanda WHEN: Tonight at 7 p.m. WHERE: North Tonawanda High School LAST MEETING: Ken West beat NT, 60-42 on Dec. 18 QUOTES FROM THE COACHES: "We look at Kenmore West as a complete team that has an inside game and an out. They push the ball very well, they defend the entire court, the rebound well and they're extremely well-coached. They're in second place in the division because of all those characteristics of their game and we're third place for a reason. We look at our team as a fine line that separates the two of us and we're hoping our preparation will put us in a position to win the game. We got behind early last game and couldn't dig out of the hole. We think if we can keep it close and possibly put ourselves in position late, we feel we can win." -- NT coach Ryan Mountain "What you're going to get when you play NT is they're very, very patient. Both teams are very athletic but they use their athleticism a little different. They play that 2-3 Syracuse zone with discipline and detail and you're going to have to earn every point you get against them. They want you to take quick shots and hard shots so they can get their transition going, where we have a contrasting style. We want to use our athleticism to turn up the tempo. Unfortunately we don't play them anymore in football, but when we did NT was one of the biggest rivals -- right up there with Kenmore East. So our kids get up for this game." -- Ken West coach Mike Meetze LIVE UPDATES WILL BE AVAILABLE ON TWITTER @tonanewssports Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.