STOW — He was surrounded by a horde of blue jerseys.
And he had to deal with a rapidly moving clock too.
Therefore, Van Shyjka had to make his move.
He simply didn’t have a choice.
“When I got the ball, I was like, ‘I can’t take a dribble,’” Shyjka said. “They’re going to come double-team me. I was just thinking about not taking a dribble.”
Shyjka’s body did what his mind told him. Despite the traffic and the extremely low visibility, the sophomore center then released a certain orange, spherical object toward a circular rim a few feet above him.
To Shyjka’s confusion, that orange, spherical object proved to be a bit stubborn. Really stubborn, as a matter of fact.
“That ball bounced around for about a half-hour it seemed like,” Stow-Munroe Falls head boys basketball coach Dave Close said.
In the end, Shjyka made the ball do what he wanted. And the Bulldogs got their fourth consecutive victory in the process.
Host Stow earned a thrilling 50-48 win over Twinsburg last Friday at James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
Shyjka, who scored a game-high 19 points, became the Bulldogs’ hero just when life was getting very tense for those who bleed maroon and gold.
With less than a minute left, Stow decided to play for a last shot when the Tigers went into their 1-2-2 zone.
After wasting several seconds off the clock, the ball went to Shyjka on the right side. Shyjka smoothly used his pivot foot to get position before using a few pump fakes to catch the Twinsburg defenders off guard.
He then unleashed a soft jumper in traffic that bounced around the rim for what seemed like several seconds before the fussy orange ball finally went through the hoop.
That dramatic bucket gave the Bulldogs a 50-48 lead with four seconds left.
“We were trying to get the last-second shot,” Shyjka said. “We ran this one play that we’ve pretty much ran all year. It was a high-low pass. I got a really good pass from [sophomore] Owen Bainbridge.
“I got just a little light to shoot the ball. I took that chance. It probably made about 10 bounces on the rim before it went in.”
Shyjka, who has been the team’s most lethal inside threat throughout the season, knew the clock was ticking. Yes, it would have been even more beneficial to his team if the shot would have taken place right before the buzzer sounded.
At the same time, though, the margin of error was razor thin. Thus, when Shyjka got the ball, it was simply a matter of now or never.
“I knew I wanted to get it up before the final buzzer because we could get a rebound and a tip back in,” Shyjka said. “There were like three guys on me and I saw just a little sliver of light and took a chance.”
Close certainly didn’t mind. Seeing his brute post player prevail in rather difficult circumstances was quite a pleasing sight for the longtime coach.
“He got swarmed in there,” Close said. “It was pretty physical, but he’s a strong fella. If there’s a guy I want to have the ball around the rim, it’s him.”
The Tigers still had a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds. However, their final two attempts did not find the inside of the nylon.
With the win, Stow, which has dealt with losing streaks of five and four games during the season, improved to 9-10 overall and 7-5 in the Suburban League National Conference.
Not bad for a team with a bunch of underclassmen who never sniffed the varsity lights until this winter.
“The people have really stepped up,” Shyjka said. “I had two fouls in the first half and [senior] Carter Kline came off the bench and he did really well. Freshman Titus Bakersville stepped up a lot. He had some pretty good minutes [Friday]. He’s a really good ball handler and he spreads the ball around really well.”
Shyjka does too, when he had the ball in his hands, at least.
During the early stages of the season, his teammates may have needed a GPS to locate the imposing, 6-foot-4 center.
“I think, early in the year, we struggled to get it to him,” Close said. “Early in the year, we weren’t committed to getting him the ball. I think what his teammates know now is if Van is double-teamed, he’ll find you.
“When Owen moves without the ball and Van gets it and they’re on the same page, he’ll kick it out to guards for jump shots. He [Shyjka] makes the defense collapse. Our best perimeter game can also be when it comes from Van because people have to collapse on him. He’s hard to guard one-on-one.”
One can argue that Shyjka is sort of a dinosaur these days.
In an era of stretch fours and post players being not only 3-point shooters, but also primary ball handlers, Shyjka is a bit old school.
In other words, think Shaquille O’Neal instead of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“He is a true post player,” Close said. “We’ve had some big guys the last few years that are extremely talented basketball players, but they didn’t enjoy being in the post. Van wants the ball in the post and he will work his butt off to get it there.”
Shyjka wouldn’t dare change his game. Using his wide body to overpower his opponents is what he has been doing for a living ever since he discovered a basketball court.
No crossover dribbling for Mr. Shyjka. You probably won’t see too many behind-the-back passes either. As for a perimeter game, well, let’s just say that’s part of his no-fly zone too.
“It’s what I’ve been all my life,” Shyjka said. “The post is where I live. I’m not a real shot blocker. I’m just a big body. I try to get the ball up and get some and-ones. I tell kids to get in the weight room.”
They may want to consider the wise-beyond-his-years sophomore’s advice. Either way, Shyjka plans to stick around for awhile. For Shyjka, nothing is sweeter than being surrounded by maroon and gold jerseys everywhere he goes.
“Coach Close is a great coach,” Shyjka said. “He gets all team chemistry together. We do various events together. I love playing for this team.”
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, @email@example.com or @FrankAceto_Gannett.