Editor’s note: This story originally published on March 7, 2012
Garrett Fugate desperately wants to help Blue Valley Northwest win the Kansas 6A boys basketball championship, which starts Thursday and wraps up Saturday at Wichita State’s Koch Arena.
Since he was a little kid, he’s dreamed of it. He used to imagine himself as a high school hero with multiple football and basketball state crowns.
But time is running out for Fugate and the rest of the Huskies’ seniors.
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“(Winning state) would mean everything, “ Fugate said. “I wanted to win a state championship ever since I was a little kid. Going out on top in basketball, as competitive as I am, would mean everything to me.”
If BV Northwest, which has lost to Wichita Heights in the 6A title game the last two seasons, is going to break through to win the first state championship in program history, there’s little doubt Fugate will be a big factor.
He has to be, and he knows it.
“Probably in some way I will have to come up big - a big steal, some big passes or maybe a big shot, “ Fugate said. “We need everyone to play good, though, because there are eight really good teams at the state tournament this year. It’ll be one of the best tournaments it’s been in a while, so we’ll have to get some big contributions from Damion (Hunt) and everyone else, too.”
But Fugate, who has a gift for keeping the team loose before games and providing energy and intensity during them, also knows that the world won’t end if the Huskies come up short.
Unfortunately, he learned that lesson at the cost of a brother he never knew and a former teammate.
Fugate, a guard who also received first-team All-East Kansas League honors as the Huskies’ quarterback last fall, was only 1 year old when his brother Austin Riggs Fugate was struck and killed by a car April 20, 1995.
Austin, who has a park named in his honor in Overland Park, was four months shy of his fourth birthday at the time.
Throughout football season, Garrett drew his brother’s initials on his left shoe and wrote Kevin Lang’s initials on the right one. Lang was a beloved football and basketball player at BV Northwest before he hanged himself in May 2010.
“That’s probably part of the reason I can play loose, “ Fugate said. “I know it’s a game and there’s more important stuff than football or basketball. I try to make the other players know that it’s not the end of the world if you miss a shot or lose a game.”
Fugate’s brother and friend are never far from his mind, but rather than allowing himself to be consumed by grief, he hopes that his play honors them and inspires others.
“It gets me emotional, but I love to go out there and play for them, “ Fugate said. “That’s where a lot of my passion comes from. I know they are looking down on me and hoping I do a great job for them. That’s what I try to do.”
BV Northwest’s best player unquestionably is sophomore guard Clay Custer, but Fugate is just as important to the Huskies’ success as a captain and leader.
“Garrett has a confidence about him, and I think the kids feed off that, “ BV Northwest coach Ed Fritz said. “The kids look up to him. If they see Garrett is ready to go and confident, the rest of the team will fall in place.”
Custer calls Fugate the team’s “glue guy” and its emotional motor.
“If he’s playing well, it helps the whole team play well, “ Custer said. “He’s a great passer. Obviously, he can shoot threes, but he’s a good leader and has a good basketball IQ.”
Fugate and the seniors are also down to their final chance.
“It definitely feels different this time, because last year when we lost we felt like, ‘OK, we’ll get it next year, ‘ “ senior post Jonny Giess said. “But now, there is no next year. We won’t ever get another chance to do it.”
The Huskies, who play as many as four sophomores at times, will need Fugate to be in rare form - not just in terms of connecting on big shots or rallying the defense, a role he recently adopted, Fritz said.
“When we play with a lot of energy, we’re a really good team, but we also have to have fun or we get uptight, “ Fugate said. “My job is to make sure we play with high intensity but still have fun.”
Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer