Oak Grove senior guard Jaxon Althaus remembers his first varsity basket with the same clarity he recalls making the one that gave him 1,000 points.
The first came back when he was a sophomore, who was still trying to find his identity with a much older Panther team.
“I got put into the game late and was on the baseline and one of our seniors passed me the ball and I hit a left-handed reverse,” he said, chuckling. “I think I scored five points in that game. It was pretty big for a sophomore to get that first basket because I started out my freshman year on the C team and wound up on junior varsity.”
It soon became apparent that the lanky sophomore was not just a player who would just earn cleanup minutes in an Oak Grove blowout.
“There was something special about Jaxon from the beginning,” Oak Grove coach Ty Hames said. “He could always score. But what has impressed me so much the past couple of years is the way he has matured, on the court, off the court, in the classroom – he’s just a great kid.
“He’s one of those kids you look forward to seeing every day. That was something we talked about early on, because I knew he could be a special player and a special young man – and he’s proven me right.”
Career point No. 1,000 came in a heartbreaking 65-64 loss to longtime rival Grain Valley in last Saturday’s third-place game of the 20th annual Sonic Showdown at Grain Valley High School.
He hit a driving layup in overtime for No. 1,000 and then hit a free throw, and for a few seconds it looked like that milestone might lead to a storybook ending for the Panthers. But a late 3-pointer by Andru Garrett led the Eagles to the victory, which put a damper on the postgame celebration.
“I’d have traded No. 1,000 for a win,” Althaus said. “I’m not going to lie to you, scoring that 1,000th point was very important to me. I was sitting with Coach Hames at the Platte County-Grain Valley game and when Platte County won, and we knew we were playing Grain Valley in the third-place game we just kind of looked at each other.
“We didn’t need to say anything. I have a lot of really good friends on the Grain Valley team, and there’s no team I’d rather have scored my 1,000th point against, I just wish it would have come in a win.”
A former three-sport star at Oak Grove, Althaus was the Panthers’ starting quarterback the past two seasons and was a reserve on their state championship squad four years ago.
He was a starter on the baseball team two years, but gave up baseball to concentrate on basketball, the sport he hopes to play in college.
“He’s going to play college basketball somewhere,” Hames said. “He has a few small schools looking at him, but more will start following him. He’s the total package – a great leader first and foremost, a great team player, a player who buys into defense and he can get some big rebounds.
“And if we need a big shot – against all the gimmick defenses we face – we’re going to do our best to get the ball in Jaxon’s hands.”
Althaus’ teammates feel the same about the young man they voted as team captain before the start of the season.
“If I’m open,” junior center Trey Bryant said, “I better be ready because Jaxon will get me the ball. It might be a bounce pass or a no-look pass, but he’ll get it to me somehow.”
Bryant had 20 points in Monday’s 68-62 win over St. Michael the Archangel, and Althaus, who finished with 19 points, assisted on four of his baskets.
“I think we’re a pretty balanced team,” added Dylon Pfeifer, “but we all know if we need a big shot, Jaxon is going to take it. And we want him to take it. Any of us will be willing to take the shot if he’s not open, but if he’s open, he wants the ball and we want him to have it.”
The 6-foot-3 Althaus has played every position this season for the Panthers and had to pause a moment when asked about some of his personal team highlights.
“When we beat Odessa in district when I was a sophomore, that was pretty cool,” said Althaus, who averaged 19 points a game last year and is averaging right at 20 points a game this season. “Then there was that triple-overtime game against Harrisonville where Dylon scored 41 – that was crazy.”
He goes on and lists a few more games, but nothing about his accomplishments.
“That’s no surprise,” Hames said. “He never thinks about himself. He only thinks about what he can do to help this team win.”
Althaus finally mentioned his 30-point game against Harmon in which he tied a state record by hitting 22 consecutive free throws.
“I was hitting free throws that night, but nothing else,” Althaus said, grinning. “If I would have shot well in that game, I’d have had 40. But we won, so it doesn’t matter.”
Althaus, who sports a 4.2 grade point average and has already earned academic money to use for college, is praying the right opportunity comes his way.
“It’s all I think about,” Althaus said. “I love the game so much, and I really want to play in college. I’m just hoping the right coach sees me and offers me something, because I will give it everything I have for them, just like I’ve done here.”
Hames said every year it’s difficult to watch his seniors wind down their Panther careers. But this year might be a bit more bittersweet.
“We have some great seniors on this team, and Jaxon is one of them,” Hames added. “He does everything but drive the bus. And the only reason he doesn’t drive the bus is because I do.”