Grade 9 student using height, skills to lead Truro junior high hoops squad this season
TRURO - The Truro Panthers look up to teammate Ishraq Hassan.
© Matthew Veno - Truro Daily News
Ishraq Hassan is someone his Truro Panthers teammates look up to on and off the basketball court, not only because he stands six-foot-four, but because his leadership and work ethic and team-first attitude has earned their respect.
Way, way up.
Standing at just over six-foot-four, the 15-year-old Truro resident towers over his teammates and most others on the junior high basketball circuit. And the higher vantage point certainly doesn't hurt his game.
"Just being able to look over people and see the court better and drive and finish over everyone, it helps," the Grade 9 student said.
His height may give him am bit of an edge over the competition, which typically averages around five-foot-seven or eight, but it's not the only factor that's allowed Hassan to excel this season. The shooting guard arrives at school early every day to practice in the gym on top of the twice-a-week practices the Panthers hold. He also goes to Langille Athletic Centre on the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus several evenings each week to work on his shooting even more.
"I need to be able to do more things than just rely on my height," Hassan said.
Perfecting his game takes up most of the soft-spoken teen's free time. He's the first to arrive and the last to leave every game and practice, both of which he never misses. Even if he's not doing it physically, the game is always on his mind. He even had his gym teacher shoot some video of himself taking shots so he could watch and work out any imperfections in his form.
It's been paying off. Hassan is averaging more than 13 points per game, while also grabbing 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He's helped the Panthers to a 15-1 record this season, which they carry into this weekend's CEC Leadership Tournament. The event will be held Friday and Saturday at the school, attracting some of the best junior high squads in the province.
Hassan isn't just posting his numbers in easy situations. He's come up clutch for the Panthers when they've needed him most. Case in point; the Panthers were trailing the Oxford Golden Bears by 10 points with four minutes remaining in the final of a tournament in Oxford. Panthers head coach Mikel Legere called a time out and following that, Hassan huddled his teammates on the court and told them he was taking them on his back. Once play resumed he drained 12 points to send the game to overtime and set up a Panthers victory.
"To do that at his age, to not just take the shots but knock them down in the other team's home gym in the final, you've got to have ice in your veins for that," Legere said.
But Hassan is so modest, you'd never hear that story waiting for him to tell you.
"He's the last person to talk about himself," Legere said.
Despite his numbers and skillset, Hassan is an unselfish player who enjoys dishing the ball off to teammates so they can score.
"He sets people up and he trusts his teammates," Legere said. "He'll say, ‘take the shot' even if they're not the best shooter. He wants them to take the shot."
That's the real reason why Hassan's teammates look up to him, Legere said.
"Some leaders, nobody wants to follow," the coach said. "But these guys are all friends and they're always in the gym because it's almost like they want to work hard for him too."
Aside from his work ethic and height, the position he plays has also helped Hassan. Instead of being stuck in the key, where most would place a player of his stature, playing shooting guard allows the Panthers to take advantage of his shooting ability.
"At 6'4, it's virtually impossible to stop him when he squares up and takes a good shot," Legere said. "It's too high for the average guard in our league, so he's got that height on them but he also shoots well too. If you don't guard him it could be a long night."
But Hassan said none of it would be possible if he wasn't so passionate about the game.
"I just keep playing it because I love it," he said. "As far as I can take it I'll go. If I can keep playing, I'll definitely take it."
That should be pretty far, according to Legere, who said Hassan is already on the radar of the university ranks.
"They don't take notice of people who are noticeable," Legere said. "He's great on the court and he's got great marks in the classroom. You have to be good at both to go to university now and if you're looking for that package, he's the package you should be looking for in my opinion."
On Twitter: @tdnmatt