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Huntley standout Amanze Egekeze couldn't catch a wink.
Though he had played in front of bigger audiences on larger stages throughout his well-traveled AAU career with the Illinois Wolves, the looming Feb. 21 clash at rival Jacobs made the Lake in the Hills' resident a most restless insomniac.
"From Monday on I just wanted it to be Friday," the 6-foot-8 forward said. "I didn't sleep much that week."
Finally, game day arrived and Egekeze tapped into the anxious energy 18-year olds tend to generate. Determined to lead Huntley to its fourth-straight outright title in the Fox Valley Conference's Valley Division, the four-year varsity performer played one of the finest games of his season and career.
With his team trailing a 15-12 taffy-pull at halftime, Egekeze scored 10 of his team-high 24 points in the third quarter, including 4 baskets during an 11-2 run that staked Huntley to a 6-point lead with 2:11 left in the period. Buoyed by his 13 rebounds and 6 blocked shots, the Red Raiders went on to win 39-35 and thereby complete the outright FVC Valley 4-peat.
"We could have technically lost that game and still had at least a share (of the title), but I was so set on not sharing that championship," Egekeze said. "I just wanted to win it outright. I didn't want there to be any doubt who the best team was, so I tried to will our team to the win.
"Being a winner is something I pride myself on, and knowing that I had an opportunity to be the only player from my school to win four (FVC Valley titles) was the perfect motivation I needed."
The clutch showing by Egekeze was hardly atypical in a season of big performances. Through Tuesday's Class 4A regional semifinal victory over DeKalb, he has scored 480 points in 27 games (17.8 ppg) and is averaging 7.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists to go with 74 blocked shots and 60-plus deflections.
More importantly, he continues to set an example for fellow Huntley athletes, not only by working hard every day in practice to improve, but by working hard in the classroom to produce a 3.5 grade-point average.
For these reasons, Gilbert and Liza Egekeze's son Amanze has been named the honorary captain of the 2013-14 Daily Herald all-area team in the Fox Valley. He becomes the first boys basketball player from Huntley to receive the award since Jason Kalsow and Pat Kalamatas shared the honor in 2000-01.
"All athletes at Huntley can look at Amanze as a model of what we want our high school athletes to be like," Red Raiders coach Marty Manning said. "He works extremely hard to get better at his sport, but he also really cares about academics. He does all the right things: he shows up to class on time, he's always paying attention and he gets really good grades. For him to get in trouble at school in any way, shape or form would be extremely shocking. He's the perfect example."
Manning said he first noticed Egekeze, who has attended District 158 schools since kindergarten, at a seventh-grade feeder camp. At the eighth-grade feeder camp the following year, Huntley's coach watched the budding prospect from the standpoint of how he could help the varsity team the following season.
Egekeze showed enough skill to join the Huntley varsity as a 6-4 freshman, but he was far from polished.
"He had talent but he was extremely raw," Manning said. "The great thing about Amanze is he knew that and he worked his tail off over the next four years to become a better basketball player."
Egekeze made an important decision as a freshman to join the Illinois Wolves AAU organization, directed by Mike Mullins. Though he was initially 13th on the Wolves' depth chart as a 15-U player, he felt it was the best place to improve his game and be seen by coaches nationwide.
"I was the eighth man off the bench my 15-U year," Egekeze said. "People would ask how I was going to be seen by college coaches if I'm the eighth man off the bench? But I continued to work all summer and continued to listen to what the coaches told me and I got better.
"I was proud to make it to 17-U with the Wolves. (Mullins) runs it like a college program and I'm one of only two players from that first group that made it to play 17-U." The other is 6-7 Normal U-High senior Keita Bates-Diop, who is committed to Ohio State.
Years of spring and summer instruction with the Wolves paid off as Egekeze moved up the team's depth chart while facing some of the best competition in the Midwest and the nation. In one instance his Wolves squared off last summer against an AAU team that featured uncommitted Stevenson star guard Jalen Brunson and Chicago Public League phenom Jahil Okafor, a center committed to Duke.
Egekeze's exposure via the Wolves garnered attention from several high Division-I programs, including the Big Ten. However, some schools lost interest during his junior year after Egekeze missed the first half of the season to surgically address knee tendinitis.
He was excited to finalize his college destination last summer when he accepted an offer from Division-I Belmont, a program out of Nashville with a recent track record of NCAA Tournament success.
As for those Big Ten schools and other programs that dropped out of the hunt for his services? They did so at their own peril, according to one coach who has watched Egekeze's development for four seasons.
"Last year he really proved he could score on the low block, but this year he proved he is a legit 3 or 4 at the college level, whether as a stretch 3 or a true 4," said Cary-Grove coach Ralph Schuetzle, whose team handed Huntley its first loss in the FVC Valley this year. "Belmont is getting a steal. He has that long, athletic frame with that long wingspan and he can run and jump. And he's an intelligent basketball player and a hard-nosed kid. I think schools like Illinois and Northern Illinois missed the boat on this kid."
Egekeze intends to study business at Belmont, beginning in just a few short months. He intends to matriculate in early June and take a couple of summer classes, thus lightening the load during his freshman season.
However, Huntley's big man has some important business to attend to at the high school level first, namely, winning the Class 4A Belvidere North regional championship and advancing to sectional play for the third time in four seasons.
"Good players are kind of measured on what they do in the postseason," he said, "so it would be nice to have another regional championship under our belt to cap off what has been, I think, a really successful high school career for me. It would definitely be one of the best ways to go out."