Dunks speak volumes for Atholton's Vaitkus

Basketball: Aggressiveness is the name of the senior's game, and slams are his signature.

High Schools

December 21, 2003|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Atholton's Jonas Vaitkus likes to dunk. It's part of the aggressive style of play the senior center learned at DeMatha and brought with him when he transferred to Atholton last year.

"His eyes light up if he gets the chance to dunk," said Raiders coach Jim Albert. "He won a slam-dunk contest at the Eastern All-Star Camp last summer."

Friday night, in a 48-42 victory over Glenelg, Vaitkus made an impressive two-handed dunk while being fouled, and had to hang onto the rim for a couple of seconds to avoid injury.

"That was the dunk of the year," said teammate Jimmy McQuilkin, a senior guard. "He [Vaitkus] plays with passion and that rubs off on the rest of us. He gets us motivated."

That victory improved first-place Atholton's record to 5-0, all of them league games.

Vaitkus, 6 feet 4, 200 pounds, leads the Raiders with a 17-point scoring average. He's also the team's top rebounder, though his rebounding average is not yet available because the Raiders' videotapes haven't been broken down for statistics yet.

A year ago, Vaitkus wasn't expected to lead the team offensively, but that changed this season because leading scorer Micah Mbah graduated.

Atholton's offensive style emphasizes working the ball inside to the frontcourt players.

"It's a big adjustment from being primarily a rebounder to being expected to score," Vaitkus said. "I showed a few sparks last year, and now I have the experience and know what to do."

Vaitkus averaged 11 points and seven rebounds last season and shot almost 70 percent from the foul line. He is shooting 78 percent from the line (28-for-36) this season.

He improved his outside shooting and offensive skills by playing for the Maryland Sure Shots last summer. That team finished second in the state tournament and 16th out of 150 teams in the national Amateur Athletic Union tournament in Orlando, Fla.

Coming off the bench, he played small forward and had to cover quicker players and dribble and drive from that position.

A regular weightlifting regimen helped him add 15 pounds of muscle and is aiding him offensively.

"Last year, I was getting some rebounds ripped away from me," he said.

Vaitkus scored a career-high 21 points in a 67-62 victory over River Hill this season.

Against Glenelg, which knocked Atholton out of the playoffs last season, he scored 16 points, even though he was going up against a much bigger and stronger opponent, Dallas Davidson, a 6-6, 250-pound center who is just as aggressive as Vaitkus.

"I think Dallas and Vaitkus are the two best big men in the league," said Glenelg coach Jeremy Snyder. "Vaitkus demands so much attention that everyone around him gets better. He really balances himself and gives that head fake. He's a really good player who has come a long way."

One of the questions he has been asked a lot is why he left DeMatha, a legendary basketball power that has won mythical national high school titles.

"It was quite a hike to get to DeMatha," he said. "Most days, it took an hour or more. And getting in touch with friends on weekends was tough. I live on the same street as Atholton."

That proximity allows him to hang out on weekends with his teammates.

He played two years at DeMatha and started at center on the freshman team that went 23-0. As a sophomore, he started at center on the junior varsity team that went 21-3.

"My dad went there," he said. "And I don't regret going there because the training I got there was second to none."

Vaitkus describes his style of play as the DeMatha style: "Aggressive as possible, but under control; not flashy and focused on fundamentals; and teamwork is important."

Albert is more than happy that Vaitkus chose to come to Atholton.

"I don't think we've had a player as aggressive around the rim as him," said Albert, who is coaching his 24th season at Atholton. "He's unselfish, coachable and a hard worker. He's in the gym all the time. He's also a nice person to be around, and a leader."

Vaitkus is also a good student with a 3.6 GPA and a 1,210 SAT score.

He's been talking to some Division III schools and hopes to play in college.

"Basketball is something I'm willing to work hard for, and I think that hard work will translate into other aspects of my future life," Vaitkus said.

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