GREENSBORO There were a lot of college coaches and recruiting experts at the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A Western regional semifinal Thursday between nationally-ranked Olympic and Hough. N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was there. So was North Carolina’s Roy Williams, and ESPN national scout Dave Telep. All of them, I figure, were there to see Hough’s 6-foot-7, 230-pound sophomore sensation Luke Maye.
And make no mistake, Maye is going to be a special player. But the best player on the floor Thursday night in Olympic’s 75-55 win was a guy who didn’t even start.
B.J. Gladden played at Kennedy Charter School last season and transferred to Olympic in the summer. He started practicing with the team in early December and wasn’t really ready to play until just before Christmas. By then, Olympic had gotten off to a hot start and coach Ty Baumgardner had settled on a pretty potent group of starters in guards Jevon Patton, Deriece Parks, C.J. Jackson and forwards Dante Simmons and Trey Mitchell.
So just before Christmas, when Olympic was about to play ME-GA 7 conference rival East Gaston, Baumgardner called Gladden into the locker room for a one-on-one meeting.
Baumgardner told Gladden, a 6-6 Division I recruit to Akron, that he was in shape, that he knew the plays and that he was ready to start. There was just one problem.
“I said, ‘Here’s our dilemma,’ ” Baumgardner said. “’Who do we take out?’ ”
Baumgardner said he was shocked by Gladden’s response.
Gladden, who had started every game he’d ever played, back to his rec ball days, told his coach that starting didn’t matter.
Now, Olympic’s first five comes out and sets the tone, and Gladden sits, watches and waits his turn. Then he comes in and plays this physically punishing game, posting up smaller players, dribbling past bigger ones. Thursday, he had 16 points by halftime and finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and three steals in just 23 minutes.
“I do what’s best for the team,” Gladden said. “I want to win. I don’t care about stats or anything. I knew what my role would and I accepted it.”
Gladden’s teammates said his willingness to come off the bench is a very big reason why they’re unbeaten, nationally ranked and within two games of winning the school’s first state title.
“He’s that player you need on your team,” Parks, a 6-5 senior guard, said. “He can hit from the outside and he can go inside and score, too. Coming off the bench, he’s a big-time player, and he knows whenever he comes in, we’ll accept him and he’ll get the ball.”
He certainly has been getting it in this playoff run, where he’s been quite dominant. Every time I’ve seen Olympic play this postseason, Gladden has added a memorable dunk to the victory. He jumped impossibly high against Garinger to slam down an alley oop pass last week. Thursday, he had a two-fisted dunk over Maye in the second half that got the crowd buzzing.
“We’re lucky to have him,” Baumgardner said, shaking his head. “I can’t believe his attitude. This team is a coaches’ dream. He’s special, just like they’re all special.”