Glenbard West's Huff impresses with ability to do so much
It's one thing for your own coach to speak of your play in glowing terms.
It's another when a coach in your own conference is offering the praise.
Such is the life of Glenbard West senior forward Braden Huff.
"He's a remarkable passer, a great shot blocker, he can handle the ball, he can bring up the ball against a guard," said York coach Mike Dunn of Huff, the Daily Herald's 2021-22 Captain of the DuPage County All-Area Basketball Team.
"He's so skilled and able to do those things. You don't see that at the high school level all that often."
And how. The 6-foot-11 Huff has been the model of efficient production since literally his first high school action way back in 2018 when he was just a 6-5 freshman.
"The very first game he ever played in, we subbed him in, we inbounded the ball, he went to the left side of the court in the corner, and I think they had a defensive breakdown, and he caught it and shot it," recalled Tim Hoder, Hilltoppers coach Huff's freshman year, now an assistant coach. "He was in the game for six seconds and scored his first varsity basket."
To say Huff has had a pretty decent senior season is a gross understatement. He shoots 60 percent from the floor -- 68 percent from 2-point range and 41 percent from 3 -- good enough for 16.8 points a game.
That's not nearly all. Consider he is also averaging 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks a game. That kind of production is going to get the attention of some pretty big names in the NCAA collegiate basketball realm. That includes Gonzaga, the likely No. 1 overall NCAA Tournament seed, to which he is committed.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Huff is well aware that there is unfinished business this season. The ultimate goal is winning a state championship, and he and the Hilltoppers took a big step toward that end Monday by defeating Larkin 60-34 in a Class 4A supersectional at Northern Illinois University. That's a game where Huff led all scorers with 15 points.
But getting to 36-1, with the only loss to national power Sierra Canyon (California), comes with plenty of stress.
"I think the expectations can be challenging at times, but our group hasn't let that get to us a ton," Huff said. "Every time you go on the court, you're going to get everyone's best shot. Fighting through adversity in close games is one of the toughest parts."
Obviously, Huff doesn't do what he does alone. He's got a great supporting cast in senior teammates like Paxton Warden, Caden Pierce and Ryan Renfro, each of whom he has been playing with since sixth grade. Guard Bobby Durkin joined Glenbard West this season as a transfer from Hinsdale South and has fit in perfectly.
That amount of talent, plus the fact that these are guys who truly like each other, has helped the Hilltoppers fashion a season where they are ranked No. 15 nationally by USA Today.
But would it have been possible without the big jump Huff made between his COVID-19-abbreviated junior season and his senior campaign? That's a point for debate, of course.
"He just committed to getting bigger, faster and stronger," Glenbard West coach Jason Opoka said. "The jump he made just related to his confidence and his maturity and developing his body. He was always kind of gangly, skinny and long, and COVID gave him the time to develop physically."
Right now, Opoka said, at 6-11, Huff is the team's best ballhandler. If he has a small player on him, he can take that player down to the block. If he has a post player guarding him, he can stretch from the perimeter.
Even though there may be unfinished business yet this season, it isn't hard to imagine what he'll accomplish in a blue and red Gonzaga uniform.
Visiting the Spokane, Wash. school, he said: "I think I really enjoyed the coaching staff and I thought I'd fit in well with the players and play style. They've got a really good frontcourt, and from a development standpoint, their program can work wonders and take my game to the next level."
The academics are top-notch, too, which is important to Huff and his family. He'll study either business or journalism there.
But he'll always have Glen Ellyn and a special basketball career that started when he was in first grade. To that end, he's got a special message for the kids who routinely ask for autographs after wins and want to be him someday.
"Find the joy of the game and be passionate," he said. "You can have fun, figure out your goals and where you want to be, and chase them, whatever that looks like."