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A selfless athlete is rewarded

Posted: April 7, 2008 2:06 a.m.
Updated: June 8, 2008 5:02 a.m.

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The prep basketball season is well past us now, yet stories of selflessness are timeless.

The amount of time Valencia High basketball player John Otavka will remember his senior season is the rest of his life.

Otavka can tell people he was good enough to be selected to the Southern California Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association (SCIBA) Division II-AA first team for his contributions during the 2007-08 season.

He was the only boys basketball player from the area on any SCIBA, what used to be considered the All-CIF, team.

Otavka became the first boys basketball player in school history to be selected to a division first team when he was chosen in March.

He was first informed of the honor on Thursday when his math teacher was given a note by Valencia co-head coach Greg Hayes. The teacher then passed it along to Otavka.

"I was kind of surprised," Otavka said of the honor. "I didn't really average that many points."

That's where irony bounces in for the 5-foot-10-inch, shaggy-haired guard.

Otavka averaged 12.7 points per game, down from 15 points per game during the 2006-07 season.

Yet there was a major difference in his game.

The casual observer would have labeled him a chucker during the 2006-07 season. - the classic, never-met-a-shot-he-didn't-want-to-take player.

Yet that is a misconception.

Prior to the 2006-07 season, the Valencia coaching staff, realizing the lack of go-to scorers on the team, told Otavka he would have to shoot often for the Vikings to stay competitive.

He took the advice and shot the ball 384 times - 214 times more than the next closest shooter on the team.

But the Valencia coaching staff realized something else going in to this past season.

It didn't necessarily translate to team success.

The coaches also saw they had a wealth of talent and a number of guys who could score on a nightly basis.

"In the summer and fall, coming into the season, we told him, 'John, you've gotten everything individually that you can get outside of what you can get as a team,'" Hayes said. "You've been all-league. For you to become MVP, we're going to have to win league is what was implied."

The coaching staff basically told Otavka to pull back.

Obviously, it's not something easy to do.

Kids, adults, athletes in general crave star-status.

What Valencia was telling Otavka was to give up what had made him a high school basketball star and become more of a piece of the puzzle, rather than the piece.

Otavka said it wasn't difficult to scale back.

The proof is in the results.

Valencia won the Foothill League title.

The team made it to the CIF-Southern Section Division II-AA quarterfinals, the longest run for a Santa Clarita Valley boys hoops team since 2005.

Otavka was a big reason.

He became a better defender.

His shot recognition was better.

Sure, he averaged less points per game, but Hayes points out how important Otavka's points were.

"He picked his spots - knew when he needed to step it up," Hayes said.

Like in the second-round of the playoffs.

Otavka hit a 3-pointer with two seconds left Feb. 19 to defeat Fullerton 51-48.

Hayes said coaches would approach him before games and tell him how impressed they were by Otavka.

Coaches from the Foothill League have a regular season ending meeting where they vote for awards.

Otavka was named the league's Most Valuable Player.

Coaches from the division also gather to select awards.

There were no representatives from the Foothill League at the meeting to sell any locals.

Yet Hayes had a hunch last week that Otavka impressed enough to make the Division II-AA list.

Otavka did.

"John did it by scaling back, pulling back," Hayes said. "By sacrificing individual goals for team goals basically."

Otavka will attend San Diego State in the fall.

He's given some thought to trying out for the team.

Otavka realizes, though, that he may have played his last game.

But his last games will be how his career will be measured - not the ones from 2006-07.

Selflessness became more important for this athlete.

"That basically winning is the only thing that determines it," Otavka said of the All-Division II-AA honor. "That's really all that matters for me."

Cary Osborne is The Signal's sports editor. He can be reached at cosborne@the-signal.com. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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