PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Shoot fulfills destiny by leading Blue Devils to success

Quincy High’s Aaron Shoot photographed for Player of the Year Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in Blue Devil Gym. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson

By Herald-Whig

Posted: Mar. 18, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Mar. 18, 2018 12:48 am

QUINCY

Aaron Shoot knew subconsciously where his destiny lied.

 

When the radio broadcast of a Quincy High School boys basketball game is part of the soundtrack to your birth, you’re bound to be a Blue Devil, right?

“It’s in my blood,” Shoot said with a smile.

In the hours leading up to Jill Shoot giving birth to her second son in Blessing Hospital on March 14, 2000, her husband, Todd, listened to Quincy square off against Peoria Richwoods in the Class AA super-sectional.

The overlapping of the two events seemed like happenstance until this winter. When the Blue Devils were on the verge of finishing the regular season with a 21-4 record — the best mark since the 1999-2000 team went 21-4 as well — Todd Shoot picked up on the twist of fate and shared it on social media.

That’s when Aaron Shoot bought in to the idea he was destined to do this.

“I wanted to be a Blue Devil,” he said. “I dreamed about it.”

He played out those dreams long before he ever took the Blue Devil Gym floor.

“I remember the guys I used to pretend to be,” Shoot said. “Isaiah Johnson, Zach Forbes, those kind of guys. I used to go home and do commentary of myself making buzzer-beaters and pretending to be those guys.”

The next generation of Blue Devil dreamers will be emulating the 2018 Herald-Whig Player of the Year.

A third-team all-state selection by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association and an honorable mention all-state pick by the Associated Press, Shoot helped the Blue Devils regain luster that had been lost.

The 23-5 record marked the most victories since 2007. A third straight Western Big Six Conference championships is the longest title streak since winning seven straight WB6 crowns from 1997-83. The Class 4A regional championship was the first postseason title since 2009, ending the longest drought in program history.

“It was everything you work for and everything you dream about since you were a little kid coming to fruition and coming together,” Shoot said. “The fact I got to do this alongside my best friends, that make it sweeter. I’ve said it all year and I say it all the time, they become part of your family.

“Being able to accomplish those things that not me but all of us wanted to do and looked forward to doing, that’s something special.”

It wouldn’t have happened were it not for Shoot’s leadership.

Two of Quincy’s four regular-season losses came during a four-game stretch in which he was sidelined with an ankle injury early in the year.

Following the Collinsville Prairie Farms Holiday Classic, the Blue Devils went 10-1 during the remainder of the regular season with the only loss coming to Webster Groves, which won the Class 5 state championship in Missouri on Saturday. In that game, the Blue Devils trailed by 17 heading into the fourth quarter when Shoot scored 13 of his 23 points and pulled Quincy within one.

His fourth-quarter magic became expected.

The Blue Devils trailed Rock Island 33-24 going into the fourth quarter when Shoot engineered a rally. He scored six points, had two assists, a steal and a rebound as Quincy outscored the Rocks 16-7 over the final eight minutes and won 40-37.

Quincy led by five going to the fourth quarter in the regular-season finale against Galesburg when Shoot scored 16 of his 23 points, going 5 of 5 from the field and 6 of 6 from the line, to secure a 51-41 victory and the best regular-season record since the 1999-2000 team.

“He took advantage of every opportunity to make his senior season special,” Quincy coach Andy Douglas said.

The coaching staff expected that long before this season began.

Douglas was asked when he knew Shoot would be special.

“First time I watched him play,” he replied. “You knew he had a little something different in him. That kid just lived, breathed basketball and wanted to be the man on the top stage.”

Basketball was his passion.

“For the longest time, basketball has been a huge part of me, of my family, of who I’ve become,” Shoot said. “Without the sport, without the game, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. That’s the most important thing.

“You can strip me of all the wins and the accolades and all the things like that. When it comes down to it, it’s taught me about character. It’s taught me about leadership. It’s taught me about life. I’ve learned lessons in all three of those things that can’t be replaced.”

Nor can the memories he helped create.

“When you see the Blue Devil come out, and you’re sitting up there (in the grade school section of Blue Devil Gym), it kind of becomes imbedded in your mind, especially if you play basketball, that this is what you want to do,” Shoot said. “You want to be out on that court in front of all those people playing in front of the city of Quincy.

“There’s nothing like it.”

AARON SHOOT: BY THE NUMBERS

3 — WB6 championship teams Shoot played on

9 — Consecutive WB6 games the Blue Devils won with Shoot in the lineup

14.7 — Shoot’s scoring average

21 — Most regular-season victories since the 1999-2000 team

37-3 — Quincy’s record at home the past three seasons with Shoot on the varsity

42.2 — Shoot’s 3-point shooting percentage

84.1 — Shoot’s free-throw shooting percentage

2,018 — Victories in program history. Quincy reached the 2,000-victory plateau in December, becoming the third program in Illinois to do so.

Devilishly good defense carries Quincy into sectional

Quincy High’s Aaron Shoot, left, and Jirehl Brock, right, try to steal the basketball from Altton’s Kevin Caldwell during their Class 4A Regional Championship game Friday, March 2, 2018, at Blue Devil Gym. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson

By Herald-Whig

Posted: Mar. 5, 2018 7:50 am

QUINCY — It’s no secret what the Quincy High School boys basketball team plans to do defensively.

How the Blue Devils do it is the mystery opponents have struggled to reveal.

Alton coach Eric Smith had an idea after the Blue Devils’ 1-2-2 zone held the Redbirds 25 points below their season scoring average in last Friday’s 57-36 victory in the Class 4A Quincy Regional championship game at Blue Devil Gym.

“It’s their physicality,” Smith said. “We had trouble scoring. Usually, we spend a little more time going to the free-throw line and going to the rim. But they don’t let you do that. We told our kids that’s the way it was going to be. They are big, physical, strong kids.”

Combine that with Quincy’s quickness at the guard spots, and it’s been a tough combination to crack.

During the eight-game winning streak the sixth-ranked Blue Devils (23-4) carry into Tuesday’s Class 4A Pekin Sectional semifinal against second-ranked Belleville West (27-2) at Alton High School, they have allowed just 38.8 points per game. The only team to score more than 41 points in that stretch was Geneva, but the Blue Devils led 53-25 before pulling the starters.

Opponents are shooting just 38.3 percent from the field in that same stretch.

“It all starts with energy which leads to our communication which kickstarts our defense,” Quincy senior point guard Aaron Shoot said. “When our defense gets going, our offense gets going.”

Both will have to be in sync to challenge the Maroons.

Belleville West hasn’t lost since an 81-77 overtime setback against St. Louis Chaminade in the Belleville East Classic championship game Jan. 20. In the 10 victories since, the Maroons have scored 80 or more points three times and reached 100 points once.

Belleville West is averaging 74.6 points per game.

Alton averaged 61 points per game and Collinsville, which Quincy beat in the regional opener, averaged 60 points per game. Neither reached 40. Rock Island, which won a regional title and faces Moline in the other Pekin Sectional semifinal, scored just 37 points against Quincy in their most recent meeting.

That’s 17 points below the Rocks’ season average.

“I can’t say enough good things about the way our guys play defense and the effort they put into,” Quincy coach Andy Douglas said. “They love drawing charges. They love creating turnovers. They love causing havoc.

“It’s what we’ve been really good at doing, but we know that won’t be easy to do moving forward.”

Belleville West hasn’t scored less than 62 points in a game this season.

Having a dynamic presence like E.J. Liddell helps. The 6-foot-7 junior forward is averaging 20.9 points, while shooting 57.3 percent from the field and 78.2 percent from the free-throw line. The Blue Devils have made 253 free throws this season, while Liddell has attempted 243 himself.

Liddell isn’t the Maroons’ only option. Malachi Smith, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, is averaging 15.9 points, while junior guard Lawrence Brazil III is averaging 10.9 points and has made a team-leading 44 3-pointers.

“Our defense sparks our energy,” Quincy junior guard Jaeden Smith said. “We know we have to be good defensively.”

The Blue Devils have to approach this game the way they approached the Alton matchup.

They have to be aggressive.

“Coach said before the game, ‘They haven’t seen a defense like this all year. Go at them hard,'” Quincy senior forward Ben Amos said. “And we did. We knew it was going to be something new for them. We knew that was going to disrupt them.”

Picture perfect: Blue Devils end regional title drought with second-half surge

Quincy High’s Jaeden Smith, left, and Alton’s Charles Miller have differing reactions to a charging call against the Redbirds late in their Class 4A Regional Championship game Friday, March 2, 2018, at Blue Devil Gym. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson

By Herald-Whig

Posted: Mar. 3, 2018 12:50 am Updated: Mar. 3, 2018 1:13 am

QUINCY — By the time Blue Devil Gym finally started to clear Friday night, the Quincy High School boys basketball players had posed for enough pictures to fill a scrapbook probably 10 times over.

“I don’t even like pictures,” junior guard Jaeden Smith said.

Yet, he smiled for every single one.

Smith’s second-half hot streak coupled with a dynamite defensive effort allowed the Blue Devils to exorcise some postseason demons with a 57-36 victory over Alton in the Class 4A Quincy Regional championship.

It is the Blue Devils’ first regional title since 2009, the 40th they have won at home and the 60th in program history.

The nine-year title drought had been the longest in program history, but it’s gone now.

“This group of seniors, we deserve it,” senior point guard Aaron Shoot said. “This whole team, this coaching staff, these fans, the city of Quincy, they deserve it. I really do believe we deserve it.

“We’ve worked really hard and we’ve come really close, but we hadn’t been able to get over that hump.

“So getting over that hump for the city, for the coaches and for ourselves, it feels incredible. To do it in front of this crowd, wow, that’s amazing.”

To do it against Alton made it perfect.

The Redbirds upset the Blue Devils in the regional each of the past two seasons, including erasing a 10-point deficit in the final four minutes of the regional championship two years ago.

Alton never got that chance this time. Quincy led by 14 at the end of the third quarter and went on a 10-1 run to start the fourth quarter, squelching any hopes Alton had for a rally.

It allowed Quincy coach Andy Douglas to pull his starters with two minutes remaining in regulation and give them the opportunity to soak in their accomplishment.

“I had to hold my emotions in,” Douglas said. “We talked all week long about 8:36 p.m. was when we were going to meet in the locker room and hoist that regional plaque up. So the emotions kind of hit hard. I’m still coaching and we’re up 20 and the guys on the bench were like, ‘Hey, man, calm down. We’ve got it.’

“It was an unbelievable night.”

It means for the first time in Douglas’ four years the Blue Devils play on.

Quincy (23-4) advances to play Belleville West (27-2) in the Class 4A Pekin Sectional semifinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday. According to the Illinois High School Association website, the game is being moved to Alton High School, although Quincy plans to dispute the venue change.

Regardless of where the game is played, the Blue Devils realize they have to continue to lock in defensively to keep their postseason run alive.

The Redbirds were held 25 points below their season scoring average, shot just 31.7 percent from the field and just 8.3 percent from 3-point range.

After making 13 3-pointers in Wednesday’s semifinal victory against Chatham Glenwood, Alton went just 1 of 12 from beyond the arc. The biggest reason was the inability to get penetration against Quincy’s 1-2-2 zone defense and kick it out for open looks.

“The physicality of the game dictated that,” Alton coach Eric Smith said. “You better be a man if you were going in there tonight.”

That’s where the Blue Devils wanted to go.

Leading 19-17 after a lackluster first half in which they went 6 of 23 from the field, the Blue Devils opened the second half by scoring on their first five possessions. Four of those baskets came inside and the fifth was a Jaeden Smith 3-pointer from the left corner that forced Alton to call a timeout down 30-20.

“We didn’t want to go away from our gameplan,” said Quincy forward Ben Amos, who had one of those field goals inside and finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. “We wanted to keep going at them. We knew they were going to come at us. The main thing was they were speeding us up in the first half. We had to get back, control them and make them play our style of game.”

Jaeden Smith played a huge role in that. He made the first shot of the game — a 3-pointer from the right wing — but missed his next six shots and had just three points at halftime.

After hitting two shots in 10-3 opening blitz of the second half, he hit three more 3-pointers in succession, finishing with 19 points and going 5 of 10 from 3-point range.

“All year, we’ve had some sluggish third quarters at home,” Jaeden Smith said. “We huddled up right before the second half and said we can’t have another sluggish third quarter. We came out and did what we needed to do.”

That was picture perfect.

“It’s been a rough few years of not winning a regional, albeit against some really good competition,” Douglas said. “To bring it back home to Quincy is special.”

Delivering a one-two punch: Shoot, Ary change tide with treys as Blue Devils advance

By Herald-Whig

Posted: Feb. 28, 2018 1:15 am Updated: Feb. 28, 2018 2:33 am

QUINCY — The first shot calmed the nerves. The next lifted the worry.

After that, the Quincy High School boys basketball players could think about playing for a regional championship.

Before that, those prospects seemed a little more dicey.

Collinsville limited Quincy to just four points in the third quarter of Tuesday night’s Class 4A Quincy Regional semifinal and trailed by only five points before Shoot buried a 3-pointer from the right corner on the Blue Devils’ first possession of the fourth quarter.

Two possessions later, Jacob Ary nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing to push the lead back to double digits as the Blue Devils finished off a 51-37 victory at Blue Devil Gym.

“When I hit that three, it was kind of a sigh of relief,” said Shoot, the senior point guard who scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. “And Jacob has a way about him where he just doesn’t stay cold. He’s a good enough shooter, even if he’s 0 for 3 or 0 for 4, you think that next one is?going in.

“And in that spot, I had the utmost confidence he was going to make it. He knocked it down and we could kind of breath again and relax.”

The Blue Devils (22-4) won’t relax for long.

Quincy, ranked sixth in Class 4A and seeded second in the sub-sectional, will have two days to prepare to face either third-seeded Alton or fifth-seeded Chatham Glenwood at 7 p.m. Friday in the regional championship.

The Redbirds (15-12) and Titans (19-11) meet in the second semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

“We have to get in, get some shots up, stay loose and go over some of the things from tonight that we didn’t do well,” Quincy coach Andy Douglas. “We have to iron those things out.”

Specifically, the Blue Devils have to face changing defenses with better poise.

A 15-2 run to close the first half put Quincy in control with a 31-16 lead. The Blue Devils feasted on the Kahoks’ inability to control the ball, turning six turnovers into 12 points during that stretch.

“After that, coming back after halftime, we really just wanted to step on their necks,” Shoot said.

But the Kahoks (17-14) switched from their typical man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone and threw the Blue Devils off. They turned the ball over on two of the first three possessions of the second half — Quincy had two turnovers total in the first half — and failed to score the first seven possessions.

The drought lasted 4 minutes, 55 seconds and allowed the Kahoks to pull within 31-25.

“They did a good job in it,” Douglas said. “They clogged up the middle and didn’t allow much inside. It didn’t help that we played impatient.”

Quincy committed six turnovers in the third quarter and got outscored 13-4.

“It all comes down to how we handled the ball in that quarter,” said Ary, a senior shooting guard. “We didn’t have very many offensive possessions, and when they get turnovers, they can score and that’s what made that quarter so bad. If we held onto the ball, we would have had more possessions and more buckets.”

And maybe the Blue Devils could have pulled the Kahoks out of that zone.

“It was a zone we haven’t seen before,” Shoot said. “It was a 2-3 zone where they pressure the top, which isn’t the most fundamentally sound zone. Once you figure it out, it’s pretty easy to break. If you let that rattle you, it’s going to do what it did to us that first couple of minutes.

“It’s going to force you into turnovers and make your offense stagnant. Once we figured it out, we were able to penetrate it and get easier buckets.”

It’s how Ary got open for his crucial trey.

Shoot penetrated the Kahoks’ zone at the high post and kicked to Ary on the left wing. It was one of eight 3-pointers the Blue Devils made, while the Kahoks missed all 12 of their 3-point attempts.

“Aaron got that first three and we were like, ‘All right, we’re getting it back,'” Ary said. “And then I had a wide-open shot and was like, ‘Yep, this is ours. We’re done. It’s over.'”

Blue Devils ready to relive path to state

Quincy High coach Andy Douglas has words for an official after Douglas was given a technical foul during the Blue Devils’ game against Quincy Notre Dame Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, at the Pit. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson Phil Carlson1|

By Herald-Whig

Posted: Feb. 26, 2018 8:15 am Updated: Feb. 26, 2018 10:23 am

QUINCY — Despite all the Quincy High School boys basketball team has accomplished this season, there seems to be a prevailing thought it is a longshot to advance past the Class 4A Pekin Sectional.

The Blue Devils don’t mind hearing that. They relish the chance to prove doubters wrong yet again.

When the Class of 2018 was in eighth grade, Quincy was seeded seventh in the Class 8-4A regional hosted by Jacksonville Turner. By the end of that week, the Quincy eighth graders had pulled off three upsets, including one in overtime, and won a regional title.

Another upset in the sectional — the Blue Devils beat a Mount Zion team that was 17-5 — meant a state tournament berth. So a team that began the postseason with an 8-7 record was one of eight teams left standing.

It’s a magical run none of those players have ever forgotten.

“Along with just being a cool thing to say you made it to state, it gives you that thought anything is possible,” Quincy senior point guard Aaron Shoot said. “It gives you the encouragement it can be done. No one thought we were going to do it in eighth grade. No one thinks we’re going to do it now. So it can be done.”

Making that happen begins Tuesday.

Quincy (21-4) is seeded second in its sub-sectional behind Belleville West (25-2) and will be the top-seeded team in the Quincy Regional. The Blue Devils will face either sixth-seeded Collinsville (16-13) or 10th-seeded Springfield (10-17) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the regional semifinals at Blue Devil Gym.

Third-seeded Alton (15-11) and fifth-seeded Chatham Glenwood (19-11) will meet in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The championship will be played at 7 p.m. Friday.

The Blue Devils expect to be there.

“We still have things to prove,” senior Ben Amos said. “I still have things to prove. A lot of people on our team still have things to prove. That way we remain motivated every day.”

Quincy hasn’t won a regional championship since 2009, has lost to Alton in the regional each of the past two years and hasn’t made a state tournament appearance since 1998. The last time the Blue Devils played in a super-sectional (2000) was the year the seniors were born.

The Blue Devils believe they’re due for postseason success.

“Everyone wants to keep this season alive as long as possible,” senior Jacob Ary said. “We believe we can do something special again.”

In many ways, they already have.

The Blue Devils won their 23rd Western Big Six Conference championship, reached the 20-victory plateau for the 52nd time in program history and were ranked seventh last week in the Class 4A state poll — the highest ranking since the 1991-92 team reached No. 3 in the 16-team Class AA poll.

More important, at least in Douglas’ mind, is that his team has competed. Quincy has won 18 of its last 20 games, losing in overtime to Lincoln and falling by three points in regulation to Webster Groves, the No. 4-ranked team in Missouri Class 5.

“One of the special things about this team is its mentality,” Douglas said. “It doesn’t matter who they see on the floor, they think they have a chance to win. It’s a great mentality to have. It’s held itself true throughout this season. There’s definitely an opportunity for us to make a run.”

They already have proven they’re capable of that.

“It’s always been in the back of our minds,” Shoot said. “We’ve always been proud of the fact we made it to state in eighth grade. Some people see that and think, ‘Oh, it was kind of a fluke.’ We’ve always had something different about us. We work well together, and we’re so close. That’s really what separates us from years past.”

Class 4A Quincy Regional

At Blue Devil Gym

Monday’s game

No. 6 Collinsville (16-13) vs. No. 10 Springfield (10-17), 7 p.m.

Tuesday’s game

No. 2 Quincy (21-4) vs. Collinsville-Springfield winner, 7 p.m.

Wednesday’s game

No. 3 Alton (15-12) vs. No. 5 Chatham Glenwood (19-11), 7 p.m.

Friday’s game

Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.

Blue Devils leave legacy with strong closing kick

SK Photography

By Herald-Whig

Posted: Feb. 23, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Feb. 23, 2018 11:55 pm

QUINCY — A loss Friday night wasn’t going to change what the Quincy High School boys basketball team had accomplished.

A victory meant a legacy.

Aaron Shoot wanted that as much as anyone.

The senior point guard scored the seventh-ranked Blue Devils’ final 16 points of the fourth quarter, helping stave off pesky Galesburg with a 51-41 victory in the Western Big Six Conference finale at Blue Devil Gym.

“I kind of got tired of the game being that close,” Shoot said. “I wanted to do everything within my power to kind of separate, whether that meant creating for my teammates or creating for myself.”

He created a historic moment as well.

The Blue Devils finish the WB6 slate with a 9-1 record, becoming the first of Quincy’s 23 conference championship teams to lose the league opener and then win nine straight games. The Blue Devils also finish the regular season at 21-4, the best record going into the postseason since the 1999-2000 team went 21-4 before finishing 25-5.

“This is something I’ve been dreaming about coming to every game since I was a little kid,” senior forward Collin Tenhouse said. “It’s awesome.”

Tenhouse played a critical role in helping the Blue Devils gain necessary separation.

After the Silver Streaks’ Cornell Dotson made two free throws with 4:28 to play and cut the deficit to 38-37, Tenhouse thwarted the next two Galesburg possessions. He picked up a steal off a Jirehl Brock deflection and got the ball into the hands of Shoot, who beat Silver Streaks guard Nicholas Fields off the dribble and scored on a drive down the right side of the lane.

Another deflection in the backcourt ended up as a Tenhouse steal, and he fed Shoot for an uncontested layup and a 44-37 lead that forced Galesburg coach Mike Reynolds to call a timeout with 3:37 to play.

“At that point, I just took it all in,” said Tenhouse, who had four steals, three assists and two rebounds. “The crowd was all standing. It was just a great feeling.”

His teammates sensed it, too.

“That was that moment where you can kind of sit back, relax, soak it all in and take it all in,” Shoot said.

And Shoot did the rest. After Galesburg (21-10, 5-5 WB6) cut the deficit to three, Shoot scored on a backdoor layup off a Brock feed from the high post. He scored through contact of a drive to the basket and completed the three-point play.

He capped it with two free throws with 25 seconds left and walked off the floor with the rest of the seniors to thunderous applause.

Shoot finished with 23 points and six assists, making 5 of 5 shots from the field and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.

“When you have a guy like Shoot, who is the best player in the league, at least the guy who has played the best in my opinion and our coaches’ opinions, you can control the ball,” Reynolds said. “When you can control the ball, you can control the game. That’s a great feeling as a coach.”

Quincy coach Andy Douglas relishes it.

“He’s one of Quincy’s best point guards,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you are lucky to have him. You can put the ball in his hands, and he does everything.”

The Blue Devils needed the tide turned.

Quincy committed 11 turnovers and shot just 28.6 percent in the first half but was able to squeeze out a 22-20 lead as Jaeden Smith hit consecutive 3-pointers to erase a six-point deficit. Jacob Ary’s 3-pointer from the right corner in the final minute of the half gave the Blue Devils the lead.

They trailed only once in the second half — 26-25 with 2:45 to go in the third quarter — before Brock and Smith hit back-to-back 3-pointers for separation.

“At one point, Jaeden was like, ‘We’ve got you, Coach. We’ve got you,'” Douglas said. “When they needed to make plays, they came up big and they made them.”

It was needed. Leaving a legacy required it.

Handling the Pressure: Blue Devils’ Ary never let brain condition deter love for game

Quincy High School basketball player Jacob Ary poses for a picture Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in the Blue Devils locker room. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson

By Herald-Whig

Posted: Feb. 17, 2018 8:20 pm Updated: Feb. 17, 2018 11:58 pm

QUINCY — The cookies were a sweet reward Jacob Ary and his teammates hungrily gobbled up.

That likely would have been the case regardless of whether the Quincy High School boys basketball team had beaten Rock Island in overtime on the road, but the fact the Blue Devils coupled a significant Western Big Six Conference victory with Jacob’s pending 18th birthday made the night complete.

“And they were really good cookies,” point guard Aaron Shoot said.

Diane Ary laughed when she learned her home-made cookies had become newsworthy.

“I enjoy making those for the boys,” she said.

It has become somewhat of a tradition. Since Jacob started playing basketball with the Lil’ Devils program in fourth grade, his birthday (December 3) has fallen in the vicinity of a game.

“She always has cookies ready,” Jacob said. “You could count on it.”

She wasn’t just baking cookies for the ride home this time. She was celebrating a life that has become an inspiration.

“It was kind of a sentimental weekend,” Diane said. “Who would have dreamed 18 years later this was happening? You just feel so blessed and thankful. You’re just thankful. With everything going on in the world, and every time I hear the national anthem played at a game, I can’t help but think how thankful and blessed all of us are and how much we have to be thankful for.

“Seeing Jacob on the floor, playing a game he loves, doing what he wants to do, it’s emotional. And I’m thankful he has that chance.”

Sitting in St. Louis Children’s Hospital 18 years ago as their newborn son underwent brain surgery, Diane and Joe Ary had no way of knowing if that chance would ever exist.

‘It was bad, but each day got better’

Certain birthdays are a right of passage. You get a driver’s license at 16. You earn the right to vote at 18, and you legally can consume alcohol at 21.

The significance of that wasn’t lost on Jacob as he turned 18.

“You take a moment to understand what everything means,” he said. “It probably means way more to (my parents) than it means to me. When it was a serious problem, I was too young to know what was going on. They had the scare. I didn’t have the scare.”

Complications during Jacob’s birth resulted in head trauma that caused a condition called hydrocephalus, an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid within the brain that causes increased pressure inside the skull. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about two out of every 1,000 newborns suffer hydrocephalus, also called “water on the brain.”

At just six days old, Jacob underwent surgery to have a VP shunt placed in his brain to relieve the pressure.

“It was so scary,” Diane said. “I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. At that time, I thought he wasn’t going to make it. They told us he had to have surgery to live. I kept thinking, ‘He’s not going to make it.’ I was sick myself. I made myself sick worrying.

“The medical papers we saw said Jacob had the most severe case of hydrocephalus they had ever seen. They kept telling us, ‘Be prepared. There’s probably been some brain damage. You’ll have to watch his progression both physically and mentally.'”

It had been a long time since the Arys had been parent of a newborn, so they were unsure of his development and if he was on schedule.

“It was simple things like smiling or rolling over,” Diane said. “I was trying to think, ‘Is that normal?’ You worry about things you don’t really remember how they should go.”

Hearing those stories amazes Jacob.

“It sounded like absolutely craziness,” he said. “My sisters (Danielle and Katie) had to go and live with some of our family, while my mom and dad had to be in the hospital in St. Louis while I went through the surgery. It had to take a huge toll on them.”

Actually, it taught them a valuable lesson.

“The one thing I learned was you don’t sweat the small stuff anymore,” Diane said. “It was bad, but each day got better.”

‘It was everyday life’

Jacob showed no signs of developmental disabilities, either physical or intellectual, but hurdles remained to be cleared, especially because he fell in love with playing sports.

“He’s a fanatic,” Diane said.

That created more worries. Jacob had to be cognizant of head trauma because the shunt was placed inside the skull and brain. If the shunt was damaged, surgery would be required to have a new shunt installed. In those circumstances, the broken shunt is not removed, but is left as part of the brain.

“We were told he should not be playing any contact sports,” Diane said. “I was like, ‘What are we going to do?’ I was trying to enforce that to new luck. My husband was like, ‘How are you going to control this?’ He just said, ‘Let him be who he is. Let him do what he can do.’

“Jacob was going to do what he wanted to do. His mind was set, and he wasn’t going to let anyone stop him. He was just determined that he was going to be like everybody else.”

That’s how he always viewed himself.

“I was normal just like everybody else action-wise, but I always knew I had this in me,” Jacob said. “You knew you had it. You knew what the risks were. It was everyday life.”

That meant playing sports and being adventurous the way boys are.

“Honestly, I didn’t think anything about being normal or not normal,” Jacob said. “I had a normal childhood. Nothing was really different other than playing contact sports. When I was growing up, my dad told me one doctor said I’d be able to play any sport I wanted. Then we got a new doctor, and he was a little more cautious. He said you could play soccer and baseball, but basketball and football should be out.

“We took that as, ‘Hey, this kid really likes basketball, so we’re going to let him play basketball.'”

He did so much more, mainly because his friends cut him no slack.

“You could have come over to our house when we were in third grade, and we would have been wrestling with him just as hard as we were wrestling with everybody else,” Shoot said. “He’s just one of us.”

“No one looks at him as different than anyone else,” QHS senior forward Ben Amos said. “Why would we?”

They don’t let him use hydrocephalus as an excuse in any circumstance.

“Some of them have been a little more protective in certain scenarios,” Jacob said. “The vast majority of the time, they are like, ‘Ahh, you’re fine.'”

That’s how he wanted to be treated.

‘Being part of a family’

Jacob understood his condition meant certain limitations.

Playing football never was an option, but he wasn’t going to stand for being told he couldn’t play basketball — not after falling in love with the sport.

“Coming here to Baldwin (Middle School) my fourth grade year and being on that Lil’ Devils team, starting to make friends who all loved basketball, you start enjoying it just as much as everyone else,” Ary said. “At that time, I was still a seasonal sports player, but as you get older, you begin to realize you’re better at a certain sport.

“That’s when you put more effort into it, and that’s when it becomes your favorite sport.”

No one, not even a doctor, could talk him out of giving it up.

“Basketball is something I never thought about quitting,” Jacob said.

It actually inspired him to work harder.

As a junior on the QHS basketball team, Jacob played limited minutes. He played in nine games and scored 15 points, but he believed he could help the Blue Devils this season. Jacob worked with Matt Pugh, a coach and trainer with Pure Sweat Basketball Skills, during the offseason. The drills they did created better footwork, a more consistent outside shot and the tenacity to play every possession aggressively.

“You compete in those 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 drills, and that makes you more competitive in practice and in games,” Jacob said. “I had to make sure I could knock down shots. I always knew I was one of the more successful offensive players, but I knew it all came down to defense. If I wanted to play and be a factor, I had to bring it on defense.

“And knock down shots obviously.”

He has done both consistently well.

Jacob come off the bench to score 13 points and hit two clutch 3-pointers in the 56-53 overtime victory at Rock Island. He is now the first player off the bench and is averaging 5.2 points per game while shooting 44.2 percent from 3-point range. He’s been named the team’s defensive player of the week twice.

“He bought in to what we needed him to do to play defense and give us energy on that end of the floor,” Quincy coach Andy Douglas said. “He’s always been able to shoot and knock down shots, but you have to be able to defend. You have to be able to help your teammates and trust them so they trust you. Jacob has been doing all those things. I’m proud of the way he’s made himself into a player that belongs on the floor.”

That’s all Jacob has wanted.

“It all started really in sixth grade,” he said. “Basketball in fourth and fifth grade was fun, but it didn’t really become a matter of wanting my high school career to be phenomenal until sixth grade. That was when it became a dream to get out there and be a part of a great team.”

He’s part of a team that won the Western Big Six Conference championship for the third straight season.

“Being on this basketball team, and it’s been this way since I was a freshman, is being part of a family,” Ary said.

A normal life

The worries for the Arys have subsided for the most part. There have been occasional moments of consternation, but for the most part, they have learned to go with the flow.

Two years ago during an annual checkup, a neurosurgeon discovered Jacob’s shunt apparatus had broken. However, Jacob didn’t need further surgery.

“It separated,” Jacob said. “Either it got caught, or I grew too big. I could never feel anything was different.”

There were no negative symptoms or consequences because of the break. Doctors decided there was no immediate need to replace the shunt.

“There’s probably too many nerves intertwined with it,” Jacob said. “Part of it is in the skull. It would be too much and too expensive for surgery. It’s better to leave it in.”

Doctors are optimistic Jacob no longer has hydrocephalus.

“I was always told from a very young age there was a good chance I would need it all my life,” Jacob said. “At one point, it was like, ‘Does he really need it?’ The doctor kind of got mad and frustrated and was like, ‘Of course, he needs it.’ That was a year or two before it broke.

“It’s kind of cool to know it’s basically done with.”

He can move forward with a normal life, though Jacob laughs at that notion. He believes all he ever has been is normal.

“It’s inspiring really,” Shoot said. “He’s such a hard worker. He never lets that condition get him down. He never saw himself as different, so neither did we. It’s just inspiring.”

It’s been uplifting for his parents.

“Everybody has a burden or something they are dealing with in their life,” Diane said. “Everybody is overcoming obstacles to get where they’re going in their life. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal.”

What the future holds is a big deal. Jacob ranked 37th academically in a graduating class of 427 at the end of his junior. He plans to study business and finance in college. He isn’t sure what to do with such a degree, but his determination to succeed won’t stop when his basketball career does.

“To know you have parents who push you every day to make sure you succeed in life, it’s great,” Jacob said. “I’m blessed to have the life I do.”