Wait worth it for Geneva's Valentine
Nathan Valentine loves the game of basketball.
When the Illinois High School Association delayed the start of the basketball season last November due to COVID-19 protocols, Valentine felt a bit like a fish out of water.
"It was not an easy time," admitted Valentine.
Instead of participating in holiday tournament action, Valentine was left to figure out when and or if he would even have a senior season as a member of Geneva's basketball team.
"I spent a lot of my time on Twitter posting videos about why we should have a season," he said. "I began to realize how much the game means to me."
In late January, the IHSA announced that boys and girls basketball competition could begin for schools in regions that had reached Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan, after those schools conducted seven days of practices.
In early February, the Vikings opened their season with a 51-38 victory over St. Francis, and Valentine was off and running.
During an abbreviated 5-week campaign, the 5-foot-11 guard filled a scrapbook full of memories that included a pair of game-winning, 3-point baskets while leading the Vikings with a 20-point scoring average.
For his efforts, Valentine has been selected as the Captain of the 2021 Daily Herald Fox Valley All-Area Boys Basketball Team.
"I made the most of every bit of the season," said Valentine. "I made sure that I didn't take anything for granted. Due to COVID, our season could have been lost at any time."
Valentine certainly made up for lost time.
In his second game, he scored a game-high 28 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer from just inside the volleyball line, during the Vikings' 42-39, come-from-behind victory over eventual Upstate Eight Conference champion Bartlett.
One week later, Valentine struck again, connecting on a 3-pointer, his ninth of the contest, with less than 2 seconds remaining to lift the Vikings to a 40-39 triumph over St. Charles North.
Valentine scored 33 of Geneva's 40 points.
Displaying superior range to go with a quick release, Valentine made things tough on opposing coaches throughout the season.
"Valentine is such a sound offensive player," said North Stars coach Tom Poulin. "He does a great job of taking what the defense is giving him and not forcing things even though he had to take on much of the offensive load for them."
"He has incredible range, so you have to find him early in transition and really do your best to deny him in the half-court after he gives it up," added Poulin. "I don't think I am the person to ask how to stop him though -- he had great games against us."
Perhaps Valentine's most impressive performance came in late February against Lake Park, as he drained three 3-pointers in the final 42 seconds of regulation to force overtime during Geneva's 52-50 victory over Lake Park.
"He saved us in a bunch of games," said Geneva coach Scott Hennig, whose team finished 8-8. "He has such a confidence in his ability -- he believes in himself."
That belief comes from plenty of hard work.
"He put so much time into improving his game," added Hennig.
Valentine also possesses that "clutch gene."
"I'm not afraid to take the last shot," he said. "It comes with makes and misses. Against St. Charles North, I think I had made seven (3-pointers) in a row so there was no way I was missing that last one."
Valentine experienced a growth spurt during his sophomore year, gaining 4-5 inches, that helped propel his game.
"I've been small my whole life," he said. "Some counted me out but that only fueled me. I made an emphasis on my quick (shooting) release, thinking, 'I can turn this into a weapon.'"
He certainly did that.
Valentine, who averaged 12 points per game as a junior, connected on 54 of his 130 3-point attempts (42%) this season while shooting 91% from the free-throw line.
"Nate has the ability to shoot at such a high rate," said Hennig. "We asked him to do a lot. He was great at getting people involved. I had to yell at him a couple times to shoot the ball more.
"He's a kid who loves to play basketball. He loves to compete and hates to lose. You can tell that Nate Valentine is in the gym working on his game. He's a role model for future Geneva basketball players."
In addition to his coaches and teammates, Valentine credits his dad, Paul, for his guidance.
"My dad is probably my biggest role model," said Valentine. "His high school team (Neenah, Wis.) finished second in the state tournament (in 1988), so he always says, 'finish what you started.'"
Next fall, Valentine will attend NCAA Division III powerhouse Illinois Wesleyan.
The choice was a simple one.
"I wanted to go to a winning program with a great coaching staff," said Valentine. "They have great facilities and it's still close to home. My parents (Paul and Alison) haven't missed a game in my life."
"I think he'll be perfect for that league," said Hennig. "I'm excited for him. He has been a joy to coach the last four years."
Conrad Luczynski, Jr., C, Bartlett
Ethan Marlowe, Jr., F, St. Charles North
Nathan Valentine, Sr., G, Geneva
Aaron Wafford, Sr., G, South Elgin
Damari Wheeler-Thomas, Jr., G, Larkin
Erik Hill, Sr., G, St. Edward
Ethan Ivan, Jr., F, Batavia
Kyle Maybrun, Sr., G, Streamwood
Fernando Perez, Jr., F, Larkin
Gavin Sarvis, Jr., G, Burlington Central
Ben Ahmer, Jr., G, Huntley
Trace Boley, Sr., F, Larkin
Jacob Breier, Jr., G, St. Edward
Nick Carpenter, Jr., F, Burlington Central
Drew Cwik, Jr., G, South Elgin
Danny Cwinski, Sr., G, Aurora Central Catholic
Jimmy Durocher, Sr., G, St. Charles North
Dylan Fuzak, Sr., F, Geneva
Adam Guazzo, Jr., G/F, Huntley
James Hayes, Sr., G, Jacobs
Jason Huber, Jr., G, Dundee-Crown
Brock Jewson, Sr., G, Crystal Lake South
Zach Leahy, Sr., G, Jacobs
Ben Lothery, So., F, Harvest Christian
Max Love, Sr., G/F, St. Charles North
Kelton McEwen, Fr., G, Bartlett
Drew Meyers, Jr., G, Aurora Central Catholic
Danny New, Jr., G, Aurora Christian
Matthew Peddy, Sr., G, St. Charles East
Carson Seyller, Jr., G, Burlington Central
Zac Schmidt, Jr., G, Burlington Central
Ian Smith, Jr., G, Bartlett
Jamarion Stubbs, Jr., G, Larkin
Drew Talkington, Sr., C, Cary-Grove
Trent Tousana, Jr., G, Batavia
Ryan Weaver, Sr., G, Cary-Grove
Aiden Wieczorek, Jr., G, Huntley