Andrew Tetteh admits with a hint of reluctance that the spotlight ison him.
Tetteh says he understands Hammond boys basketball coach Jack Burke, who has stated more than once that the young Golden Bearsultimately will go as far as Tetteh takes them.
"I'm just trying to play my game. I don't think I'm the only person who will contribute," says Tetteh, Hammond's soft-spoken, 6-foot-4senior forward. "But it's becoming clearer and clearer that if I don't do it, it's going to lessen our chances of winning."
Tetteh hasset numerous goals for his final year at Hammond. He sees himself averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots a game. He sees himself helping the Golden Bears out of their 1-3 start and into their customary positions as a county title contender and a formidable Class 2A playoff team. He sees himself improving with each game.
All of that can happen, Burke says, if Tetteh decides to claim Hammond's driver's seat.
"His (Tetteh's) biggest goal this year is to concentrate on playing for 32 minutes," Burke says. "He has to come every night to play. We're really going to need him down the road againstthe big boys around here. He's the lifeline."
Tetteh's career hasbeen defined by good moments -- and an occasional flash of brilliance -- made possible by a strong body and a 36-inch vertical leap.
His leaping prowess has served him well in track and field. A three-year star for the Bears, Tetteh won the state triple jump title last spring with a jump of 44 feet, 11 inches. Hammond track coach Pete Hughes thinks Tetteh, who has improved his distance by about two feet peryear since his freshman season, could threaten the state record of 49 feet, 6 inches this spring.
"He was a gangly kid who didn't havemuch speed as a freshman. He's turned into an extraordinary athlete," Hughes says.
On last year's basketball team, which was loaded with experienced seniors like Player of the Year Kyle Jefferson, Tetteh's role was limited: Grab some rebounds, block a shot or two, seal off the middle, maybe score a few garbage points. Tetteh did his job admirably, averaging seven points and six rebounds.
Some nights, he barely contributed. Other nights, he stood out. He could intimidate opponents by swatting away shots. At times, he was a fierce rebounder.And then there was a special moment against Howard, during an 87-71 Hammond victory. Tetteh picked up a loose ball in the paint, turned, took one step toward the basket, went airborne and brought the crowded gymnasium to its feet with a thunderous, one-handed jam.
That snapshot still brings a smile to Tetteh's face.
It is also a snapshot he has yet to duplicate.
"One of my favorite games. The ball just dropped in my hands and there was the basket," Tetteh says. "The opportunities (to dunk) don't come that much. And if I keep thinking about it, I won't play well."
"You'll probably never see that (a dunk) again," Burke says. "That's one of those freaky plays. If he wants, he could take one step on the baseline, go past anyone and throw itdown."
Tetteh presents an intriguing package. He has the quickness and the shooting skill -- "a Division I jump shot," says assistant coach Dana Beszczynski -- to play outside. He has the tools to be a force inside. Tetteh, who showed his commitment to the game last summer by attending his first Five Star basketball camp, wants to be both.
"He's more of a finesse player than a power player, but he's starting to like it inside," Beszczynski says.
Burke adds that Tetteh is making "massive strides" in his consistency.
Tetteh, Hammond's lone returning starter, has shown more brilliant flashes during the Bears' 1-3 start. In an 84-51 loss to Aberdeen, Tetteh was Hammond's only bright spot, scoring 11 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking12 shots. Two nights later against Liberty, he spent much of the evening in foul trouble and produced just eight points and four reboundsin a 77-55 defeat.
"I'm still trying to figure it out," Tetteh says. "I can't find what's going wrong."
While the Bears have struggled badly with their outside shooting, he is averaging a respectable 12.5 points, and a strong 11.5 rebounds and six blocks. Burke thinks that for the Bears to be successful, they must improve on their horrendous 30 percent shooting. They also must find a leader and an identity.
Burke finds himself looking in Tetteh's direction.
"He has always been overshadowed," Burke says. "When he was on JV, James Grant was the story. Last year it was (1991 graduates) Kyle, Adam Walker and Carl Williams. Andrew was the fourth option. What we're trying todo now is get him to reconcile himself to being the first option.
"It took Kyle a while to learn the same thing last year. Last year, Andrew didn't have to do it. This year, it's a little different. If he doesn't do it, it won't get done."