Northwest seniors pave road for future success
If Shawnee Mission Northwest boys basketball coach Ben Meseke had his way, every incoming freshman basketball player entering the Cougars' program would have to watch a video of this year's senior class. He said younger players could learn a lot from this season's graduating class.
"It's real easy," Meseke said, "just look at the seniors we've got."
Meseke has fond memories of each of the four seniors who have made an impact on Northwest hoops in their time as Cougars, yet he notes that each player has made his mark differently.
"Each of the four has a really great story behind them, and I enjoy sharing them," Meseke said.
With senior post Danny Pestock, Meseke tells of a gangly freshman who never lost heart and stuck with the game until his skills caught up with his body. Pestock now figures in a formidable front-line rotation that features juniors Matt Page and Jonas Varnum as well as fellow senior Darrell Stallings.
"When Danny played freshman ball he was on the 'B' team," Meseke said. "Over the years he stayed with it and kept working and working. His story is pretty neat. It gives inspiration to those younger kids who might be tall but might not have all the coordination there yet. 'Stick with it and don't give up' is what Danny tells those younger kids."
Stallings took a more circuitous route to his senior year as a Cougar. With stops at Shawnee Mission West and Turner high schools, Stallings didn't get to showcase his skills at Northwest until his senior year. Now a Cougar, Stallings has dazzled Northwest fans with his rebounding ability, quick hands and passing. Because of his ability to get inside, Stallings has also become a reliable scorer for a team that has used him both as a starter and a sixth man.
"Darrell's had a rough four years," Meseke said. "I at first advised him not to come out this year, but no matter how many times I told him he just kept coming back. Darrell has done more growing up these past few months than he ever had previously. He's a pleasure to work with now. It's really quite a story."
Three-sport letter winner Brandon Cox has made his mark on the Cougars basketball program in unmistakable fashion -- as the team's most feared defensive specialist. Cox is most often called on to shut down the other team's most potent offensive threat, and, as is more often the case than not, Cox lays down a thick defensive presence that suffocates scorers.
"One of the main reasons Brandon's been out there is because of his defense," Meseke said. "He works so hard on defense. One of my most favorite moments is when he stopped (J.D.) Christie of (Shawnee Mission) East in the sub-state final last year. We were in our 'diamond-and-one' and, even though he was giving up a few inches, Brandon shut him down. We call him our 'junkyard dog' because he protects so well. He sets the example of, 'As long as I'm working hard, there's a place for me on this team.'"
Finally, Meseke spoke of leading scorer and point guard Dusty Burdolski, whose helmsmanship of his team has been sterling this season. Burdolski has mixed excellent court vision with a deadly outside shot to become one of the most respected guards in the Sunflower League. To Meseke, the hints of Burdolski's greatness were there from the beginning.
"It seems like just the other day when I'd come in on a spring or summer day or weekend and hear the ball bouncing on the stage gym," Meseke said. "Then I'd find him hiding behind the bleachers so nobody would find him there."
Meseke believes that Burdolski is the best kind of ballplayer -- a basketball purist.
"He's a gym rat," Meseke said. "He just loves the game. His free throws the other night at North...Well, I want him up there more than anyone else because he's probably been doing this inside his head for the last four years -- thinking about sinking the winning free throws at North. When it comes to getting things done, he does it. There's been some shots that he's hit this year where, yeah, sure, anybody could do it in practice. But he does it when there's 2,000 people in there."
Meseke will miss all of his seniors individually and collectively, but the gift that they give the program in example will mean the 2006 senior legacy will always remain a part of the program.
"Look at Brandon who's getting it done for us on defense," Meseke said. "Look at Darrell who has made a huge change in his life. It's easy to look at those four kids and say, "You do this and you'll be successful.'"