Before the 2017-18 basketball season, Oak Grove head coach Ty Hames challenged forward Jaxon Althaus to make some changes to his game.
No. 1, Hames wanted him to share the ball more than he had in the past. No. 2, Althaus wanted to focus on being able to drive to his left instead of mostly to his right. No. 3, Hames wanted Althaus to develop a mid-range jump shot.
The 6-foot-3 senior worked on all three of those things and had his best season yet. He led the Panthers to a 19-7 record, the first time Oak Grove had finished 12 or more games above .500 since 2013. A loss to eventual state runner-up in the district championship ended their season.
Althaus averaged 20.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.8 steals per game as he became one of the best two-way players in the Kansas City area and earned Class 4 all-state honors from the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association. He also tied the state record for most free throws attempted and made in a game when he made 22 out of 22 against Kansas City (Kan.) Harmon.
Because of the Panthers’ success and his individual accolades, Althaus is the 2017-18 Examiner Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Because of the improvements the senior made, it created matchup problems for opposing teams.
“His ability to shoot the ball, get by you off the dribble … he’s a long high school player that creates a lot of offensive opportunities,” Hames said. “He worked a lot in the offseason last year on his weaknesses – his ball handling and mid-range game.”
When other teams noticed how much Althaus improved, many teams built their game plan around stopping him. More often than not, those didn’t work. A lot of that had to do with sharing the ball more.
“They tried to take away his strengths, but he found a way to get to his shot,” Hames said. “We have to give his teammates a lot of credit for getting him open on certain plays. His ability to share the ball created more opportunities for himself. We had so much balance offensively.
“He wasn’t a selfish player, but he realized this year that he was only going to be as good as his teammates. A lot of times, he would lead our team in assists. But he also had the confidence to be a big shot maker.”
Added Althaus: “I had no problem this year trusting my teammates and giving them the ball for the big shots.”
In the past, Althaus was someone who depended a lot on driving to his right and getting to the basket to score the bulk of his points. This year, he displayed new ways that he could score.
“He used to be a kid who wanted to drive or shoot a perimeter shot,” Hames said. “This year, he was able to drive and pull up from 15 to 13 (feet away from the basket), and that makes him hard to guard.”
“He can do all three phases. He can catch the ball and shoot from the perimeter, he can drive to the rim and he can pull up. That’s why he was able to score so many points.”
Added Althaus: “(Hames) has been hounding me since sixth grade to develop a left hand.”
He was no slouch on the defensive end either.
“He could guard all five positions,” Hames said. “He was able to guard the point guard or go down low and guard the biggest player. He really developed all of the facets of his game.”
And his improvements made the season a fun one for Althaus.
“I love my teammates; we had so much fun,” Althaus said. “We knew when to have fun, but we knew when to be serious. We won some big games and the last stretch was unbelievable.”
That last stretch included a come-from-behind win against longtime rival Grain Valley in the semifinals of districts. In the three head-to-head matchups with the Eagles, Althaus got to go one-on-one with Grain Valley star and fellow first-team All-Area selection Andru Garrett – another challenge the Panther senior embraced.
“We got after it,” Althaus said. “We were big competitors against each other. He’s a great player, too. I loved playing against him.”
And he now loves basketball, which wasn’t always the case. Althaus, who is also a quarterback in football and a golfer, has found his niche on the hardwood.
“Basketball had never been my favorite sport,” Althaus said. “In middle school, that’s when I figured out that basketball was my game. Then in my sophomore year, I knew it was.”
Now he has a future in the sport as he plans to play in college.
“I visited a couple of NAIAs,” Althaus said. “I am still making that decision.”