• Undersized Penamon shoulders huge load for Indians

  • The burden that Will Penamon carries isn’t exactly proportional.

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  • The burden that Will Penamon carries isn’t exactly proportional.
    Fort Osage boys basketball coach Josh Wilson admits that his sophomore point guard, all 5-foot-5 of him, is forced to shoulder a heftier load than any other player on his roster. Not only is Penamon going through the struggles every first-year starter experiences, but he’s doing it without a backup.
    As the only true point guard on the squad, Penamon doesn’t have the luxury of having an off night. He really doesn’t even get to enjoy much of a breather, as he’s grown used to playing 30 minutes or more just about every game.
    “There are times where I don’t remember taking Will off the floor,” said Wilson, whose 21-4 team takes on St. Joseph Central (12-13) in the Class 5 Sectional at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Independence Events Center.
    That responsibility has taken its toll on Penamon. Earlier this season, he came down with a virus during the William Jewell Holiday Classic that sidelined him for one game. But against Lee’s Summit West, he returned and convinced Wilson that he was healthy enough to play nearly the entire contest – although he ended up vomiting in the locker room after a 70-62 loss.
    Wilson is used to Penamon shrugging off injuries. About three weeks ago, Penamon pulled a rib muscle that extends to his upper back. While he’s played through it, he said it’s the most painful injury he’s ever suffered and it flared up in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Class 5 District 15 championship against Liberty after he took a hard fall on an offensive foul. Penamon sat briefly before returning to score the Indians’ final four points in the last minute, including a game-winning floater from the elbow with seven seconds left, in a 57-55 victory.
    “I just want to win,” said Penamon, who finished with 11 points. “I told (my teammates), no matter what I go through I’m going to be there for you guys. When I put on my jersey, it’s just time to go.”
    Considering that win clinched the second district crown in school history, Penamon’s shots were probably two of the biggest in program history.
    “You got to trust him in that situation,” senior Austin Regier said. “You got to, and he came up with a good shot. He got a one-on-one shot. At the end of the game like that, Will going one on one on somebody, I’ll take that.”
    Penamon’s last-minute heroics illustrate a larger story of a point guard’s rapid maturation. At the start of the season, Wilson admitted Penamon played hesitantly and the results were disastrous.
    “He was trying to do too much but at the same time trying not to screw up,” Wilson said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Around Christmas, Wilson had a conversation with Penamon where he laid out the situation for him in blunt terms. He told him that as the team’s only point guard, he had to step up his game if the Indians were going to reach the lofty goals they’d set. But he also emphasized that he trusted him despite his inexperience.
    As the season progressed, Penamon’s game blossomed. He’s averaging 5.5 points, 2.5 assists and one steal this season with an assist-to-turnover ration of 1-to-1. But during Fort’s current 12-game winning streak, he’s boosted those numbers to 6.4 points, 3.8 assists and two steals to go with a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover margin.
    “I finally learned my role these last couple games,” Penamon said. “Coach has been stressing the fact that I can’t always pass up open shots.”
    That role occasionally includes handling play-calling duties solo, like he did Friday. With the crowd noise frequently drowning out Wilson’s voice, he told Penamon to run the offense himself. A couple times, he even called his own number, as he did right before knocking down a basket with 57 seconds left that gave Fort a two-point lead.
    “You talk about the trust with the guy running everything that’s going on out there, I’ve got it with him,” Wilson said. “And he’s so much more confident than he was.”
    At the start of the season, Wilson constantly goaded Penamon to be more aggressive. Now coaches and teammates describe him as one of the most fearless players on the team.
    On Penamon’s game-winning drive against Liberty, D’Vante Mosby and Regier were the two primary options on the play, but Wilson told Penamon not to hesitate if he found a hole in the defense.
    Seconds later, there was the undersized sophomore darting toward the elbow, putting up his trademark running floater, unflinchingly, in front of a crowd of defenders.
    Now, as the Indians are a win away from making the deepest postseason run in school history, that little point guard that seemed so unsure of himself a few months ago seems like a distant memory.
    “It’s just a competitive edge I have,” Penamon said. “I go hard on everyone. It doesn’t matter how big you are or how old you are, I’m going hard and giving you my all.”
    Follow Shawn Garrison on Twitter: @GarrisonEJC

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