There is no secret about what cogs in the Seabury Academy boys basketball machine make the team lethal.
When opponents prepare for the Seahawks, their attention immediately turns to three players. And with the numbers being put up by Seabury’s big guns — 6-foot-7 senior Georgi Funtarov (22 points per game, 10 rebounds a game), 6-4 sophomore Khadre Lane (18 points, six boards) and 6-5 senior Thomas Diaz (13 points, eight rebounds) — there are plenty of reasons for those outside the program to slap three big, big bull’s-eyes squarely on Seabury’s lead trio.
However, the rest of the Seahawks realize how important each member of the team’s eight-man rotation has been to the team’s 13-10 season, which has landed the Class 1A-Division I program in the state tournament — Seabury plays Ashland (23-0) at 3 p.m. this afternoon at White Auditorium, in Emporia.
Seniors Garrett Gillett, a point guard, and Jesse May, a forward, round out the Seahawks’ starting lineup, while sophomore guard Marcus Allen, sophomore forward Aaron Lock and junior guard Fischer Almanza come off the bench. Seahawks coach Ashley Battles goes with the substitutes that present the best match-ups for that particular game.
As for his overlooked starters, Battles said Gillett and May actually play more minutes than Seabury’s big three and he trusts them to complement the go-to guys.
“They’re just ultimate team players,” Battles said of Gillett and May. “They sacrifice their statistics, their numbers for the good of the team.”
Gillett said he and the other players who don’t receive much hype certainly don’t mind supporting the team’s leaders.
“We all know our roles on the team,” Gillett said. “Khadre, Georgi and Thomas, they’re more the scorers. Myself and Jesse, our job is more to distribute, rebound and just do the other stuff.”
The eye-popping box scores produced by Seabury’s top scorers prove how much they mean to the team, May added, and the role players are fine with that.
“It doesn’t really matter who is gonna get recognition,” the senior post said.
Whether it’s pub or fan fare, when Funtarov, Lane and Diaz get showered with love, Battles said the rest of the Seahawks don’t mind giving them a hard time.
“It’s a big joke for them. And I lead the charge with it,” Battles said. “I think it’s pretty funny.”
After Seabury beat Waverly in a sub-state championship game Saturday at St. Paul, an impromptu autograph session broke out as the small town’s fans mobbed their new favorite players from Lawrence. While the Seahawks certainly appreciated that kind of reaction, Funtarov said he is just thankful to play with guys that don’t mind doing the dirty work in pursuit of a state championship.
“I think that’s what makes our team really unique,” the Bulgarian native said. “We have guys like that who understand their role and accept their role and embrace it.”
The complimentary players, Lane added, are a huge asset for the team.
“We know we can’t win without Jesse and Garrett,” said Lane, who totaled 55 points in two sub-state wins. “Me and Georgi and Thomas are kind of like the lead singers in the band. But the band doesn’t play unless it has all the instruments going.”
Because Seabury has three long, athletic scorers whom he can kick the ball ahead to, Gillett said he doesn’t mind being a lead guard playing in the background.
“I love it. It’s easy because all three of them can score so easy,” Gillett said. “There’s times I don’t even have to get past half-court.”
May’s appreciation for his role was evident when a broken nose and concussion forced him to miss Seabury’s first sub-state victory. A day after sitting out a 70-45 rout of St. Paul, May had to be cleared by his doctor Friday afternoon in order to play in the championship game against Waverly the following night.
Upon getting medical clearance, the 6-5 senior busted through the doors of Seabury’s gymnasium to get back on the court.
“I just sprinted over here, got my stuff on and got right back to practice,” May related. “It was amazing. If they said I couldn’t play, I don’t know what I would’ve done. It would’ve been terrible.”
The Seahawks’ three bench players, Allen, Almanza and Lock, have chipped in, too. All three help Seabury bide time when its stars are on the bench, and between Funtarov, Diaz and May being unavailable at different points this season, Lock ended up starting a handful of games.
Said Battles of the 6-8 sophomore: “All he did was come in and do everything we asked him to do — basically helped us hold down the fort.”
Ultimately, Gillett said, the role players are no different from the guys getting headlines. They all want to win a state championship. And they don’t care who scores to make that a reality.
“We just do what we need to do to win,” Gillett said. “That’s our whole goal.”