By Joseph Garcia
Much like in football where teams live and die by a good quarterback, so do a basketball teams and their starting point guards.
Thankfully for the Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers, they have one in senior Shane LaCaille.
En route to helping Liberty Hill reach the regional finals last season, as a junior LaCaille ranked among Central Texas’ leaders in points (18.3 per game) and assists (7.0 per game) while earning All-Centex first-team honors.
LaCaille, 18, along with friend and fellow senior running mate Blake Danielak head a Liberty Hill team that is currently ranked No. 6 in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches poll. Danielak, who recently withdrew his verbal commitment to Texas Tech, averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.8 blocks as a junior last season.
This year the senior duo figures to help lead the Runnin’ Panthers deep into the playoffs for a shot at the state title that eluded them last season with the help of a solid team that adds Vandergrift transfer 6-3 Tyler Eyre and the dynamic Jadon Durity-Boatright from the football team.
LaCaille said last year’s loss in the regional finals fueled him to improve in the offseason.
“There was a bad taste left in your mouth after being that close,” said LaCaille. “It was definitely something that drove me this summer. Every time I get on the court I (think) that I never want to have that feeling again when my season is over. My one (individual) goal is to keep my assist to turnover ratio at 2-1. I really need to improve on that from last year.”
Liberty Hill Coach Barry Boren said the tandem of LaCaille and Danielak are a formidable force when they play together and hopes the season ends on a winning note that they will remember forever.
“I think that Shane (LaCaille) and Blake (Danielak) play well off of one another,” said Boren. “It is hard because many times in practice, I separate them to make it more competitive. When they do get a chance to play together, it is a bit unfair. It is not quite that much of a mismatch in the games, but it is still a formative tandem. We understand that last year was last year; this year is this one. Still, it is Shane (LaCaille’s) and Blake (Danielak’s) senior year and I know they want it to be special.”
The LaCailles moved to Liberty Hill when Shane was in fifth grade. LaCaille, 18, said that’s when he first met Danielak and the two have been friends ever since.
“(Blake’s) a really great person on and off the court,” LaCaille said. “On the court, he is very well rounded and can do anything from shooting to rebounding. Off the court he is a real genuine guy. He’s nice and always puts others first. He’s a really great guy.”
LaCaille’s favorite subject in school is government, which is perhaps fitting because as the starting point guard, he can help control the game’s pace and govern his team’s play. LaCaille, 5-11, is quick on his feet and can stop on a dime and shoot the lights out, or blow right past you if you stay too close.
He is also a tough guard for opponents and is difficult to contain, according to Coach Boren.
“Shane is really, really fast with and without the ball,” Boren said. “That means that off the dribble he is really hard to contain. He also is a very good shooter with extensive range. So, when someone tries to guard him the dilemma is how to guard him. On top of that he is better than an 80 percent free throw shooter. Last, he has excellent handles. Those attributes have to do with his skills. He also has the desire to ‘take the last or big shot.’”
LaCaille feels that running the team and trying to find out what works and what does not is something at which he excels.
“(I think I’m good at) running the team on the court and then knowing what to do and when to do it,” LaCaille said. “As the point guard you have to understand when a shot is needed…I think I really do that well, (knowing) when to make certain plays. You look at the defense and see what they are trying to do and look at the matchups to see what advantages and disadvantages you have.”
In the Runnin’ Panthers’ opening game against Hyde Park, LaCaille led the team in scoring with 19 points in Liberty Hill’s 78-56 win. He is off to a good start in 2012 and is excited about this year’s team and what it can do.
Replacing last season’s complimentary players was his main concern heading into this year. But LaCaille said they may have found those glue guys that can help them get to where they want to go – state.
“I really like our team this year,” LaCaille said. “This year we have a new asset in Tyler Eyre and he gives us a much bigger post presence than we had last year. We didn’t know if we were going to have any (nuts and bolts guys) this year, but Tristan (Heidelberg), Jake (Stalder) and even Jadon (Durity-Boatright) on defense are stepping up, then we have really good shooters. I am really excited about this team and what we can do.”
As one of six seniors on Liberty Hill’s 10-man roster, LaCaille is a natural leader that other players will stick their necks out for. LaCaille, undecided on if he will play college basketball, always leaves everything on the court and his efforts are contagious to his surrounding teammates and even his coach.
“Shane has a good hear,” said Boren. “I love the kid because of his competitive spirit. Kids want to play with him and will fight hard because he will and does. Needless to say, I like coaching him, too.”