STROHECKER: Rockets not one-man gang

Patrick Strohecker

Basketball is a unique team sport.

Spring Grove's Darin Gordon, left, defends as Northeastern's Jeff Reynolds takes the ball to the net during York-Adams semifinal basketball action at Red Lion on Thursday. Spring Grove would win the game 59-57. Gordon helped the Rockets earn the York-Adams League championship on Saturday night.

Unlike any of the other major team sports — football, baseball, hockey and even soccer — one player in basketball can make the biggest difference between a win or a loss.

Sure, having a star quarterback, pitcher or scorer can take a team from good to great in the other sports, but they might not influence a game in the same way that a great player can influence a basketball game. That notion is even more true at the high school level, where the talent gap on the court can be even greater.

Spring Grove has that magical player in junior Eli Brooks. He can take over a game at any given point and, more often than not, he's been the best player on the floor this season. And he'll continue to be the best player on the floor next year, too, when he becomes even better during the summer. There's a reason why he's already received 10 NCAA Division I offers for college, making him one of the most sought-after commodities in not just York County, but all of District 3.

I'm a firm believer that if you have the best player on the court in basketball, you'll always have a chance to win. It's a big reason why the Rockets won their first York-Adams League title since 1971 on Saturday night and it's a big reason why they enter the District 3-AAAA playoffs with legit championship aspirations and an excellent shot at making the state tournament, as well.

He's a big reason for all of that. But, he's not the only reason.

Brooks has a lot of help: Ask almost anyone outside of Papertown about Spring Grove basketball and they'll mention Eli Brooks. After him, however, minds will most likely go blank. While his recognition is warranted, it's hardly fair to the rest of the players on the Rockets team.

Because what Spring Grove showed this season was that it's not just a one-man show. One-man shows help you compete. They don't help you win titles. Case and point is senior Darin Gordon. He was second on the team in scoring this season, averaging more than 16 points per game. On any of the other 22 Y-A League teams, he'd stand out to more people than just opposing coaches putting together scouting reports. He's a double-double machine, playing much bigger than his 6-foot, 3-inch frame. In the team's quarterfinal victory over Hanover in the league tournament, he posted 12 points and 10 rebounds. Hardly a stat line worthy of being thrown on the back burner.

Or, consider Thursday night, when the Rockets were in a dogfight with one-loss Northeastern in the league semifinals. Gordon was in-bounded the ball with the game tied and just 20 seconds left on the clock. He drove and was blocked from the hoop, but he didn't force something to Brooks. Instead, he passed out to senior Grant Wierman, who drove and nailed the game-winning layup in traffic to lift Spring Grove into the championship game. Give any person in the gym that night $5 and a bet on who would take the last shot for the Rockets in a tie game, they'd put it on Brooks. But, Spring Grove doesn't view itself as one or two guys. It's a committee approach. When one guy goes down, the next guy steps up. Or, in that case, when options A and B aren't there, move onto C.

Spring Grove senior Eli Brooks was held to 16 points in his final high school game. He finished his career with 2,426 points, second most in York County history. He is one of six finalists for the Mr. Pennsylvania Basketball Award.

"It's our unselfishness," Gordon said about why the team has had so much success. "Because Eli is such a great player, a lot of stuff does run through him and we know that, but everyone else knows their role and if one guy isn't playing well, like I fouled out tonight (Saturday), somebody had to step up. Grant, Jonny (Sager), Liam (Flaherty), they all stepped up."

But, it's also the things that don't show up in the stat sheet that have turned the Rockets from a two-win team not too long ago to a 20-plus-win program that is cutting down nets.

"There's multiple parts of the game that need to happen and everybody's gotta be willing and able to," head coach James Brooks said. "We take charges. You can't have one person that's just taking charges. You have to have a mindset that everybody is going to be tough and step in and that's what we have."

It's not what Spring Grove has. It's what it is.

The league title run surely opened some eyes that the Rockets aren't an Eli Brooks solo act, with a team of background dancers. It's a group that trusts one another that when one person is struggling, the next one is right there to pick him up.

That is the kind of success that leads to winning championships.

That is Spring Grove basketball.

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