OPRF’s Alex Gustafson no-excuses guy
Oak Park, 12/14/12 Oak Park River Forest's Alex Gustafson grabs the ball away from Proviso West's Taylor Watkins (33) during their game in Oak Park December 14, 2012. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Wrestling: at Minooka, 5 p.m.
Coming off its biggest win of the season at Hinsdale Central’s Whitlatch Invitational, the Huskies travel west for their final dual meet before competing in the Clash in Rochester, Minn., Dec. 28-29. OPRF moved to the top spot of the SeasonPass rankings behind Joe Airola at 170 pounds, Larry Early at 132 and Matt Rundell at 120.
Boys basketball: vs. Lyons, 6 p.m.
After a 1-3 start, Lyons (4-4, 1-2 West Suburban Silver) is starting to climb back behind Chris O’Reilly and Jarryd Heath. The two conference teams meet in their final regular season game of the year before heading off to separate holiday tournaments: Lyons at York and OPRF at Pontiac. Erick Locke led the Huskies (6-3, 2-0) with 23 points in their win over Proviso West on Friday.
Updated: January 21, 2013 3:03PM
OAK PARK — Something was off when Alex Gustafson walked into practice one day wearing a sweatshirt.
He had a hacking cough and his face looked flushed. But he didn’t say a word to his basketball coaches.
“That was the first time I saw a sign of his sickness, and he was exhausted,” Oak Park-River Forest coach Matt Maloney said. “But he kept saying, ‘I’m fine. I’m fine. Just give me some more water.’ He’s that type of guy.
“We talk about those old-school guys who just come in and give an honest day’s work, an honest day’s pay, and he never complains.”
Maloney said Gustafson was “sick as a dog” in OPRF’s second conference game against Proviso West, but he still played all 32 minutes.
Gustafson’s six points in the Huskies’ 49-43 win say little about his contributions. Usually, he’s the one defending the opposing team’s best player.
“He does all the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Maloney said. “He’s really kind of our heart and soul. He makes up for a lot of mistakes other people make that you wouldn’t necessarily see. He just does so much that we just have to have him on the floor.”
One may think the 6-foot-4 senior plays the forward position, but Gustafson is listed as a pure guard.
He attended Maloney’s basketball camps throughout grade school and played center. But when he joined the Huskies basketball team as a freshman, Maloney made him a guard.
“He thought I was crazy,” Maloney said. “I said, ‘We have a long-term plan for you,’ and he has just bought in and worked his tail off to make himself a player.”
During his sophomore season, Gustafson only attempted three 3-pointers. Then, spring of that year, he approached Maloney and asked if he could teach him how to shoot, that he’d do anything to become a shooter.
Together, they broke down his shot and change his form and technique. In the gym, Gustafson would take 200 shots, five to six feet from the rim.
“Before my junior year, I thought I was going to be more of a driver, more of a slasher,” Gustafson said. “Then I had a shooting repertoire, and it helped me out and opened up my game.
“I didn’t really think of myself as a shooter. Just over the spring, I put a lot of shots out. (Maloney) really helped me out. Like I said, it opened up my game, and it’s a great feeling. I like shooting.”
Last season, when the Huskies won their first West Suburban Silver title in four years, Gustafson improved his shooting to 44 percent. Now, he’s taking more attempts and has been averaging 42 percent so far, and hopes to lead his team (6-3, 2-0) to its second-straight conference title.
Assistant coach Denny Keizer also worked with Gustafson to develop his offensive game and knows Gustafson’s versatility is integral to the team.
“He was a quiet sophomore, (but) he’s not that quiet anymore,” Keizer said. “He’s the leader on the floor. He knows every play. He knows the game plan. He watches every film. He works on his shot. He’s a very relentless worker.”