Woodstock guard Jordan Turner remembers last season, when opponents would drive inside against the Blue Streaks’ 2-3 zone defense and have their way in the lane.
The Streaks lacked the height to challenge shots and properly protect the defensive boards.
“Those things would cost us games,” Turner said.
That has not been a problem so much this season. Damian Stoneking, all 6-foot-7, 255 pounds of him, strikes an imposing figure just watching warmups. And when foes venture into the lane now, it’s much tougher to find open looks or rebounds.
Stoneking averages 9.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots a game for Woodstock, which is 19-10 and playing in a sectional for the first time since 2000. The Streaks (19-10) face Rockford Lutheran (24-4) at 7:30 p.m. today in an Class 3A Freeport Sectional semifinal. The winner meets either Sycamore or St. Francis in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. championship.
The teams were supposed to play Tuesday, but the heavy snowfall pushed all games back one day.
“I’m just really happy to help my team out on defense and clean up any mistakes,” Stoneking said. “We don’t make many. That was my goal coming in, to do what I can to help the defense.”
Woodstock coach Alex Baker prefers a 2-3 zone and Stoneking is the ideal type of player to have in the middle of that defense.
“Physically, it makes a big difference to put him in the middle of our 2-3 zone,” Woodstock coach Alex Baker said. “With the long arms and the instincts he has. Our philosophy on defense is to funnel things down to him. He’s played the game a lot and has good natural basketball instincts.”
The Streaks had Stoneking early last season, but he decided to leave the team. A couple months after the season, Baker and Stoneking talked and agreed he needed to play this season.
“He wanted that and I wanted him back,” Baker said. “We wanted to focus on the future and not the past. He’s matured so much, even in the past year. I’ve known Damian for five years and worked with him. The difference in him over the years is striking. He’s turned in to a fun kid to work with and coach.”
Stoneking played travel basketball in the offseason with Full Package and played with the Streaks over the summer. He will play with Joy of the Game this spring and summer.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” Stoneking said. “This is the most fun season of basketball I’ve played in my whole life. Playing with these seniors has been a blast.”
Stoneking’s teammates see a different person too.
“He was really hungry in the offseason and put some things behind him,” Turner said. “He’s been a big help to us.”
The Streaks had Turner, a four-year varsity player, to lead the way. Seniors Brad Kaufmann and Andy Buhrow can hurt teams from the outside and other players fit their roles well. Stoneking was the piece they most needed.
“He has lots of positive attitude, he’s fun to be around,” Turner said. “He’s a very enjoyable guy who likes to joke around. He’s matured a lot.”
Baker will meet with Stoneking and his mother after the season to discuss college plans. The coach believes his big man has a future, especially with a renewed enthusiasm for the game.
“I’ve become more mature,” Stoneking said. “I’m not taking things I do wrong on the court so seriously now. If I shoot a bad shot or get one blocked, I just go and play defense and try to get the ball back. I’m really glad I can give us a presence in side. It helps our shooters out a lot to have someone the other team has to respect in the paint.”