For the last four years, it’s been hard to say the name Justin Clark without also adding Jon Ekey.

And vice-versa.

For the last four years, it’s been hard to say the name Justin Clark without also adding Jon Ekey.
And vice-versa.
And William Chrisman High School boys basketball coach John Vickers is thrilled to have had each of them on his team.
For the first time in the history of The Examiner’s High School Boys Basketball Player of the Year award, two players are sharing the honor – senior guard Justin Clark and senior forward Jon Ekey.
It’s only natural.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever coached two players who complement each other as well as Justin and Jon,” said Vickers, who adds to the Bears’ list of postseason honors as the selection as The Examiner’s Boys Basketball Coach of the Year. “You really can’t think of one of them without thinking of the other. And it will hopefully be that way for four more years.”
That’s because it won’t end with high school. The two who have been synonymous will both attend Illinois State University, where they will play basketball for coach Tim Jankovich.
“Every time I talk to Coach Jankovich, he just gets more and more excited about having Justin and Jon on his team,” Vickers said, grinning from ear to ear. “I know how much I enjoyed coaching them and I know he’s going to feel the same way.”
One moment best sums up what Clark and Ekey meant to the Bears – and to each other – this past season.
In Chrisman’s 87-52 Class 5 District 15 victory over Kansas City Northeast before a standing-room-only crowd at Chrisman, Clark made a move that is usually reserved for a player like Kobe Bryant, not a high school senior.
The 6-foot-3 guard took a pass and left a Northeast player grabbing at nothing but air near the 3-point stripe.
He did the same to another Viking near the free-throw line and left the last of three hapless defenders in his wake as he floated to the basket and deftly put up a reverse layup that kissed the rim and fell through the basket.
“I saw it and thought, ‘How did he do that?’” said Ekey, who is also part of this fable.
Moments after the play, Clark missed a 3-point shot and the 6-foot-7 Ekey grabbed the rebound above the rim and slammed it home for a dunk that rocked the Chrisman backboard.
“I enjoyed Jon’s dunk more than my move,” Clark said. “He got up there. Ekey’s dunk was stellar.”
Added Ekey: “It’s my all-time favorite dunk, but it was nothing compared to what Justin did.”
Ekey, who scored more than 1,000 points in his career, said that the past season has been something he will never forget.
“It’s been real special,” he said. “Justin and I really developed a bond, and Coach Vickers is the best. We all wanted to go to state, but didn’t quite reach that goal (losing to Liberty in sectional play), but it’s been a season none of us will ever forget.
“And to know that Justin and I will go on and be teammates in college is pretty amazing. I know the connection and bond we have in high school will continue on in college.”
Clark – who finished his career with 2,148 points, second in the history of Eastern Jackson County to the 2,175 by former Blue Springs High School and University of Missouri legend Jon Sundvold – backed that statement.
“Jon (Ekey) has meant a lot to me,” Clark said. “I feel like he always had my back, and I always had his. I feel so blessed to have had a coach like Coach Vickers and a teammate like Jon and all the other guys on the team.
“Jon and I got a lot of attention this year, but we don’t get any of that without great teammates.”
Four years ago, Vickers introduced the Bears to the Grinnell College run-and-gun style offense in which five new players come onto the court every two minutes. The end result has been a wild ride that’s capped with the three postseason honors.
“I truly believe that the honor of Coach of the Year is a reflection of the players on our team and the coaching staff we have,” Vickers said. “It is definitely not about me. … It pays to have good players and a team of guys who are willing to buy into what we do, leaving egos at the door and the willingness to adopt a role and do whatever it takes to be successful for the team.
“We had a few mantras this year on our team that we emphasized. One had to do with running all the time. Another was that everyone was expected to contribute to our team, and the other one we talked about was ‘iron sharpens iron.’ We needed to make each other better every day on and off the court. I really think our guys bought into these concepts.”
Associate head coach Bill Adams saw both the players and Vickers grow on a game-by-game and year-by-year basis.
“I tell John every year that I hope he’s Coach of the Year, because that means we had a really good season,” Adams quipped. “He’s the type of coach you can really work with, bounce ideas off of. If they work, great. If they don’t, you move on. I know how much the kids mean to him and I know how much he means to his players and coaches.”