From the first time he saw Justin Hansen step on the court, West Deptford High School boys basketball coach Don Clark knew he had a player with the type of skill set he could build around. So the coach wasted no time throwing him into the fire, even if it meant plenty of bumps and bruises during his freshman season.
Hansen started right out of the gates for the Eagles last year, showing flashes of playmaking ability, while experiencing both turnover and confidence issues that would be expected from any young player. But Hansen kept working and Clark kept playing him.
A light seemed to come on during the final two games of the 2010-11 season when Hansen scored 21 and 16 points. But even then, things weren't going quite as well as they are now for the Eagles’ point guard. With each game, Hansen is gaining a greater confidence, and with each big performance he is gaining the respect of the opposition.
"I had spurts last year where I shined, but I’m feeling the chemistry now, getting used to my teammates and knowing where they are going to be,” said Hansen. “I know what my role is and the role of everyone on the team.”
“He worked really hard to make himself a good player,” Clark said. “I think when you come in as a freshman, you play within yourself and you know who you are. Then all of a sudden you come in this year, and you have to be the big guy.
"In his mind I think the pressure may have been on him a little bit. I think now that we have gotten to the point where we have won some games, he is feeling, ‘We’re a pretty good team and I don’t have to (be the man).’”
Hansen, who poured in a team-high 14 points in the Eagles' 83-53 loss to Haddon Heights, has now scored in double figures in three-straight games, averaging 15.3 points a game over that span. For the season he has failed to score in double figures only three times.
“It’s just more confidence, really, in my shot,” Hansen said of his increased scoring. “Once I start hitting early, I get going and get more confident and get to the line more.”
Hansen showed an ability to take over the game during the second quarter of Tuesday’s loss. The Eagles trailed 28-11 with just under six minutes left in the half, when Hansen scored six-straight for the Eagles. He scored the first two on a pair of free throws after beating his defender to the hole and drawing a foul. The next four points came on long jumpers. He later added two pretty assists when he drove inside the lane and kicked it out for a pair of three pointers from Tom Jakubowski (10 points).
His performance earned praise from Clark, who took the young guard aside after the game.
“I told him, you didn’t just score against a bad basketball team, you played against a top team in South Jersey,” Clark said. “To score against them, he showed that he is going to be a player someday.”
As good as Hansen was, the Eagles were never within an arm’s length of the Garnets. West Deptford (6-4) had no answer for Garnets’ guard Brandon Joyner, who cut and slashed his way to a game-high 27 points.
In six wins this season West Deptford has not allowed an opponent to score more than 53 points. In its four losses, opponents have averaged nearly 72 points. Hansen said for the team to continue to have success this season, it must stay focused at the defensive end.
“The key has really been defense,” said Hansen. “If you look at all of our wins, they have all been low scoring. Look at all of our losses, and it has been teams scoring in the 80s. We just have to play ‘D.’”