PANTHER PROFILE: LaDuque is the Runnin’ Panthers’ shooting specialist

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Liberty Hill’s Riley LaDuque (#15) goes up in traffic against Llano on Tuesday night. LaDuque finished Tuesday’s home game with 15 points, including two threes. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Liberty Hill’s Riley LaDuque (#15) goes up in traffic against Llano on Tuesday night. LaDuque finished Tuesday’s home game with 15 points, including two threes. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By MIKE SCHOEFFEL

When it comes to influences on the basketball court, Riley LaDuque prefers to keep it in the family.

“My mom, Tafi, has been a real mentor,” he said. “She has coached me since I was in fourth grade up to my freshman year. Outside of that, my brother, Colby, was a big mentor. He was a great example of how to work hard and be humble.”

Humility is a character trait LaDuque has utilized quite often during the 2016-2017 season, his first as a major contributor at the varsity level. In the past, when he was on sub-varsity teams, LaDuque said he was often the go-to scorer. LaDuque’s role on the varsity team this year has been more specialized: he’s been called upon, above all else, to be a consistent outside shooter.

That transition from center-of-the-offense to piece-of-a-puzzle, so to speak, has taken some getting used to for LaDuque.

“It’s been different being on a team this year with so many different possibilities to score,” he admitted.

Co-captain Josh Sudekum is regularly the team’s leading point grabber, along with fellow seniors Clayton Kuhlmann and Zach Lord, among others. To his credit, LaDuque, a junior, has carved out a niche of his own as a reliable scorer, averaging about nine points per game. He now feels “more comfortable handling the ball, taking midrange shots and jumping passes” at the varsity level.

LaDuque, who was initially called up to varsity during the playoffs during his freshman year, also cites his willingness to learn as one of the key factors in his development, saying, “I’ve gotten better with taking coaching and working with various teammates.”

LaDuque and his Runnin’ Panther teammates got off to a somewhat lukewarm start this season, going 10-10 in a challenging non-district schedule that included a home tournament in early December, the Savio Eagle Classic in mid-December, and the 58th annual Whataburger Invitational at the end of the month. The Whataburger Invitational is widely regarded as one of the most consistently competitive tournaments in the state.

The start of District 19-4A play has rejuvenated LaDuque and the Panthers, however. They looked downright dominant in two double-digit wins last week, thumping Taylor, 76-38, in the district opener on Jan. 3, and breezing past Salado, 46-30, on the road on Jan. 6.

As the Panthers flip the switch from trial-run preseason games to decisive district games, LaDuque said his main focus remains the same: “putting points on the board, getting steals, and keeping all the guys upbeat and focused.”

LaDuque, who’s been playing basketball since the age of five, will be one of the deciding factors in how the rest of the season plays out for the Panthers. Will they build on their recent success or revert back to the team that went 10-10 during pre-district play?

LaDuque may not be the center of the offense, yet — though with eight seniors graduating this summer, he may get that chance next season. Until then, he’ll continue to focus on improving, just like he’s done for more than a decade.

“I really like how in basketball you only need yourself and a ball to get better,” he said. “You get as good as you allow yourself to get.

Sports@LHIndependent.com

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