On Wednesday night, former Rock Falls standout and SVM player of the year Steven Armoska took the floor during the first half of the Sauk Valley Skyhawks’ rout of Madison Tech.
The first thought I had was that he seemed smaller.
Armoska. who was listed at 6-foot-4, hadn’t lost any height since high school. The difference was that the people around him are bigger.
On the Sauk Valley roster alone, there are four players taller than Armoska. Add in a few tall Madison players, and it was clear that any future hoops in basketball for Armoska will likely mean that he’ll have to become more of a wing player.
It’s a transition that Chris Frtisch has had to make for the Skyhawks.
Fritsch, the 2011-12 SVM player of the year from Sterling, hit a 3-pointer, and most of his shots were jumpers, as opposed to the back-to-the-hoop post moves that made him so tough for the Golden Warriors.
Fritsch, at 6-5, had his best game as a college player, according to coach Russ Damhoff, against Madison Tech.
Hopefully, Fritsch and Armoska continue to develop as players and find their way onto rosters at the next level once their respective 2-year stints at Sauk are over.
One of the benefits of this job is seeing players develop from tentative underclassmen in high school to dominant seniors.
In some cases – like Armoska and Fritsch – we see them get knocked back down the pecking order in college. Some make it, and some hang up the sneakers to focus on studies.
And, there’s nothing wrong with that decision. It’s one almost every athlete has to make at some point or another.
The Sauk Valley has a couple of other former players of the year making some adjustments this winter.
Joseph Bertrand – a two-time SVM player of the year – is entering his fifth and final season at the University of Illinois.
Bertrand has fought through injury in Champaign. He paid his dues as a bench player, and then slowly started to earn more minutes.
This year, Bertrand’s role will need to expand exponentially, as he is one of the few Illini with any kind of college experience.
He’s averaging 16 points and eight rebounds in three games, but the Illini have yet to face an opponent anywhere near the talent level they will see nightly in the Big Ten.
Like Fritsch and Armoska, Bertrand has a challenge before him. Part of it will be harnessing his excessive athletic talent and turning it into productive minutes on the court.
The other is to become the on-court leader Illini fans have hoped for since he committed to then-coach Bruce Weber.
To the north of Champaign, Dixon graduate Matt Ross is averaging 12.7 points and six rebounds in his second season with Chicago State.
Ross took the same path as Armoska and Fritsch, spending two seasons learning and growing at Sauk.
Now he is expected to be one of the top players in the WAC. He’s done it by also expanding his perimeter game.
As coincidence would have it, Bertrand and Ross will play against each other next week, as Chicago State will travel to Champaign on Friday. Tip-off is at 8 p.m., and the game will be on the Big Ten Network.
I guess the lesson here is that change hits athletes pretty fast once they graduate.
What these young men have shown is that, while change is rarely easy, it can lead to good things.