IN THE SPOTLIGHT
A few feet in front of the boisterous New Trier student section, Brian Conaghan raised the stakes and went all demolition derby with his body.
In an effort to keep a loose ball from going out of bounds, the New Trier senior guard fully extended himself with a violent headfirst dive.
He hit the hardwood floor … hard.
A grimacing Conaghan quickly picked himself up, rushed back on defense and eventually shook off the pain.
But the impression No. 3 made on his coach — Scott Fricke — probably will last for days, if not forever.
“How about that dive on the floor?” said Fricke, praising his senior guard following NT’s dramatic 46-41 victory over Loyola Academy in Day Three of the NT-LA Thanksgiving Tournament on Nov. 22. “Unbelievable.
“But that’s Brian,” the coach added. “He plays with a lot of toughness. He’s got a great motor. He’s the lead on our defense. He never takes a break. He pressures guys all game. He wears them down.”
Conaghan, fortunately still in one piece after the game, admitted that he was pretty pumped up to play LA — especially in front of an electric crowd. Going all out is the only way to match the intensity of the ever-hustling Ramblers.
“We set a goal before the year started,” said Conaghan, a football player for the Trevians in the fall. “To be tougher than any team that we play.
“I thought we came out a little shaky, a little nervous tonight,” he added. “But we came out ready to go in the second half. And that crowd we had tonight really helped us.”
New Trier junior Ciaran Brayboy loves what he’s seeing from Conaghan.
“I believe he’s the heart and soul of our team,” the 6-foot-9 center said. “He does whatever he can to help us win. He had it last year. He just didn’t have the confidence. But he has it now.
“He’s our best ball defender,” added Brayboy. “He’s always in the right position.”
The 6-1, 170-pound Conaghan, who played his club basketball with Hoops4Health, also has raised his level of play on the offensive end. He tallied seven points, including a clutch three-pointer from the left corner, in the third quarter against LA.
For the game, he had eight points, six rebounds and two assists.
“He’s become very efficient on offense,” said Brayboy, who tallied 10 points and 11 rebounds against the Ramblers. “He’s our facilitator. He makes the extra pass, and he’s good at getting the ball inside.
“And he’ll be hitting a lot of three-pointers for us,” he added. “You’ll see.”
With Conaghan and fellow senior Andrew Kirkpatrick, New Trier appears to be in very good shape at the guard position. They’re a solid 1-2 punch — on both ends of the court.
“It’s great to have Brian matched up with Andrew,” said Fricke. “Those two have started the season well.”
Conaghan, Kirkpatrick and senior forward Griffin Ryan were named to the all-tournament team.
Kirkpatrick, in fact, was named the tourney MVP after tossing in 18 points in New Trier’s 63-51 victory over St. Ignatius in the championship game at Loyola on Nov. 25.
NT’s other stat leaders in the tourney final included Ryan (9 points), Brayboy (8 points), Noah Osher (13 points) and Spencer Boehm (8 points).
In the win over LA, Ryan hit four free throws in the final 11.9 seconds of the game to lead NT with 12 points. Boehm had nine points, six rebounds and two assists in the contest.
NT’s other tourney wins came over U-High 71-43 on Nov. 20 and Von Steuben 54-40 on Nov. 21.