Created:Saturday, February 23, 2013 11:55 p.m.CDT
Updated:Sunday, February 24, 2013 8:17 a.m.CDT
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Dunks can change games, but few in area willing – or able

Crystal Lake Central's David Panicko hangs on the rim after dunking during the first quarter Jan. 29 against Woodstock at Woodstock High School. (Josh Peckler)

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Jordan Turner broke into open space and made his approach to the basket. By the time he reached the rim, he had already decided what he’d do next.

At the time, Woodstock trailed crosstown rival Woodstock North by a point. And even if he didn’t get a shot off before the third-quarter buzzer sounded, Turner, a 6-foot-2 guard, understood a forceful one-handed dunk carried much more impact than a layup ever could.

Turner’s wrist rose above the rim, slamming the ball through the basket. But as much reaction as shots like Turner’s YouTube-published dunk can set off, they don’t happen with great regularity. Inquire why dunking is such a rarity, and the responses vary from caution to simple physical limitations.

“I think players want to make sure they get the two points and they don’t miss a dunk,” Turner said.

Jacobs senior Will Schwerdtmann agrees, suggesting the risk of blowing a dunk at a critical juncture often keeps players from even trying. But Crystal Lake Central coach Rich Czeslawski insists the infrequency of forceful finishes comes down to a much more elementary reason.

“We just don’t have the athletes around here that can do it,” he said.

Dundee-Crown coach Lance Huber tends to agree. In 2009, the Chargers advanced to the Class 4A semifinals behind a virtual dunking machine in 6-foot-6 Charles Kimbrough. The gifted player moved effortlessly around the post, flourishing as a shot blocker and dunker, giving D-C an athletic force Huber said isn’t prevalent in the area anymore.

“I just think you have to have athletes and players,” Huber said. “There’s good players here, but you have to be good to (dunk), and I don’t think people realize how good you have to be to do it.”

• ••

Lake Ojo can relate.

The 6-foot-4 Jacobs senior was a sixth-grader the first time he dunked, relying on a girls basketball and a 9-foot-rim.

Officially, Ojo’s first dunk came last season when he started to shape his dunking form to a point now where he feels comfortable taking his shot at clearing the rim from any number of spots on the floor.

He’s constantly searching out space, looking for an opening that can get him to the rim. Once he’s there, his intent is clear.

“I’m always looking to dunk on somebody,” Ojo said, grinning widely.

But Ojo doesn’t buy into the notion that area players aren’t athletic enough to dunk in games. Asked how many of his teammates are capable of finishing at the rim and Ojo scans the gym, starting to count. He points at one player and then a second. By the time he finishes, he’s located nine who can pull off a dunk should the opportunity arise.

The desire is there, Ojo said. It’s just part of the mindset for players in a time when dunks consistently represent the majority of each night’s SportsCenter Top 10 moments.

“We all play basketball and we all try and dunk,” said Ojo, whose dunk recently against Prairie Ridge on Jacobs’ first possession sparked the start of a lopsided victory. “But the first time you do it, you feel like you’ve accomplished something.”

Woodstock’s Turner takes it a step further.

Turner dunked for the first time in an AAU game after his freshman year. Two of his high school dunks have come against Woodstock North. One started the game, and his most recent beat the third-quarter buzzer. In both occasions, his dunk provided an emotional lift – for his team and its fan base.

“It’s kind of like hitting a home run for the first time,” Turner said. “You get it off your chest and it’s a big momentum boost for you. It definitely carries a lot of energy.”

Longtime Jacobs coach Jim Hinkle believes in the power of the dunk.

He readily encourages his players to dunk if they get the chance. He’s had lineups on the floor that include five players who can finish above the rim. And although successfully dunking in a game is much more difficult than it appears on TV, Hinkle makes certain his players know they always have the green light to dunk if they can.

“There’s a lot to be lost if they don’t make it, and so it’s a confidence factor in a lot of ways,” Hinkle said. “If they miss it, well, people miss layups, too. So I don’t worry too much if they miss a dunk.”

Jacobs’ roster may be the ripest with dunkers, but the Golden Eagles certainly aren’t alone in possessing the ability to rattle the rim. Crystal Lake Central has finished games with multiple dunks on at least two occasions.

The Tigers scripted the start of a game this season against Woodstock with an alley-oop dunk by David Panicko before Kyle Fleck capped what had been a close game throughout the night. Last week against Johnsburg, Panicko had two dunks in 20 seconds, repeating almost identical two-handed dunks after taking a dribble in the post.

Both had the same impact.

“It just brings some energy into the gym,” Fleck said. “If you’re in a dead gym and there’s a dunk, it’s going to bring energy. It’s going to give your team momentum. It’s a boost.”

Panicko concurs.

“It boosts everyone’s confidence,” he said. “I feel like if Kyle gets one, we’re going to go off.”

Hinkle says the aftershocks of a dunk carry multiple benefits.

A dunk carries over to how a team plays defense and riles up a home crowd. But it can also strip an opponent of its ability to respond, sometimes demoralizing teams or players, especially if the dunk happens at close range.

“You never want to get dunked on,” Jacobs’ Schwerdtmann said. “If you do ... oh, man.”

Said Hinkle: “In spite of all of us saying, ‘You can’t let it bother you, it’s only two points,’ we all know it’s worth more than two points.”

• ••

Woodstock coach Al Baker doesn’t get worked up over dunks.

Like several area teams, the Blue Streaks are limited in their dunking ability because of a lack of size. Outside of Turner and center Damian Stoneking, Woodstock’s roster is pretty much void of above-the-rim performers.

So rather than wish for something he doesn’t have, Baker does without.

Baker relishes basketball strategy, finding beauty in half-court sets filled with back cuts and effective touches in the post. When the Streaks’ offense is running smoothly, they can burn opponents from any number of spots on the floor, especially on the perimeter with sharpshooting threats with Andy Buhrow and Brad Kauffman.

Like Ojo, he won’t say the area is void of gifted players.

Sometimes, I think you just have to appreciate what you’ve got,” Baker said. “I think we have guys who have a lot of talent – it’s just different.”

Huber’s D-C squad operates at a fast pace, but no longer has the luxury of a finisher like Kimbrough. It’s a reality Huber said area coaches adjusted to, leaving the art of dunking to teams like Central’s that have the athletes to pull it off.

But that’s becoming few and far between.

“It’s not like our area is loaded with 6-4, 6-5 wing players,” Huber said. “If we get a guy that’s 6-4, we salivate over getting someone big.”

Most teams short on size are forced to rely on precision passing and footwork, left to make the most of the players they have on their roster. But Baker, who has found ways to be successful with the Read And React offense that has been perfected by Central’s Czeslawski, admits if he had the athleticism at his disposal, he’d use it.

“If I had a bunch of guys who knew how to dunk, I’d probably spend more time trying to get them going,” Baker said. “But you have to play to your personnel’s strengths.”