March 16, 2015

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

HUTCHINSON, KAN.- Two players who have not received much attention for the success of the John A. Logan College men's basketball team this season are a pair of Herrin High grads, Bobby Mannie and Justin Lukens.

Both are guards. Mannie is a shooting guard and Lukens is a point guard. Both were redshirted for a year, which means that each spent a year practicing with the team, but not playing in any games for an entire season in order to receive an extra year of eligibility.

Mannie graduated Herrin in 2012 and is completing his two-plus years at Logan, while Lukens graduated HHS in 2013 and will return to JALC in the fall as a sophomore.

"I couldn't be happier with the effort of those two kids," said Logan head coach Kyle Smithpeters. "The energy that Bobby brings to the game and the coach-on-the-floor mentality that Justin possesses makes each of them important to our ballclub. I would go as far as to say they have been invaluable."

Mannie is only averaging five points a game, but has recorded a handful of double-figure outings and has even led the team in scoring on occasion. A high scorer at the prep level with the Tigers, the 5-foot-11 jumping jack is more of a defensive specialist with the Vols.

"There are some very talented players on this team and I'm just happy to contribute where I can," Mannie said. "We all have a role to play on this team, and if I'm needed to guard another team's scorer, rebound or help put points on the board, I will do what I can to make that happen. We're a good team, not just because we have talented players, but because we all want to win and don't worry about who is scoring the most points."

Mannie may have the best vertical leap of anyone that has ever played ball at Herrin or Logan. Despite being height challenged for basketball, he can reach heights most players six and seven inches taller can't reach. In fact, he won dunking contests against teammates each of the last two years in the preseason.

"I was measured once at 42 inches on my vertical. I think it's closer to 45 now," he said. "There have been times I have surprised some big guys on the other team when I have taken a rebound away from them. I get some strange looks like, 'Where did you come from?' I enjoy that."

Mannie said he hopes that his team-first mentality is noticed by coaches at four-year schools as he would like to continue playing ball beyond Logan.

"I think I can help a lot of teams," he said. "I've been drawing more interest in recent weeks. I hope to find the right fit for me."

Mannie added that he has raised his level of performance strictly through hard work.

"A lot of extra time shooting the basketball and a lot of extra time working on the finer points of the game," he said. "Basically, I worked my butt off to become a better player. I'm a much better player now than when I played high school ball."

Lukens said it was tough for him to sit out a year last year to develop his game and become physically stronger, but it was time well spent.

"I feel like I have progressed well over the course of this season," he said. "I have a much better feel for the speed of the game. I handle the ball better. I shoot it better and I would like to think that I get the ball to my teammates where they need it and when they need it."

Like Mannie, Lukens was relied upon heavily to put points on the board at Herrin. He now possesses a pass-first, shoot-second mentality.

Son of the Tigers' head coach Irv Lukens, who also played ball for the Vols a generation ago, Lukens received consistent playing time early and through the middle part of this season. In recent weeks, however, he has seen his minutes dwindle.

That's not easy to take when one is used to being the focal part of a high school offense. But Lukens is the ultimate team player. If disappointed, he doesn't let that envelope his personality. He is one of the first players off the bench to cheer for his teammates and he routinely offers encouragement when needed.

"We're all really close on this team," Lukens said. "And we care about one another. Our focus was to get to Nationals and do some damage. I'm glad to help where I can and believe this experience will help me be a better player next year."

Smithpeters said Lukens and Mannie are two of the most respected players on the Vols' team.

"Both have worked hard for us and both have bought into our way of doing things here at Logan" Smithpeters said. "I am so very proud of each. And while we'll miss Bobby's presence next year, we are excited to have Justin back. I have a feeling we will have to rely upon him heavily next year."