Monday, July 14, 2014

Transitioning To Point, Championship-Hungry Hughes Learning Leadership Role

Poughkeepsie Journal Photo

Revisiting the past season, Beacon's Elijah Hughes has difficulty pinpointing his most quality performances.

There is a 33-point explosion (on 12-for-18 FG) en route to a 70-57 win over Red Hook. He dealt out six assists, punctuating the buckets binge with a double-fisted banger.

There's a 25-point performance during a 78-59 win over Poughkeepsie, a foe known to extract extra ferocity from the bouncy 6-foot-5 guard. 

There's an uptick in pressure that Hughes vows to ramp up, adding muscle and working to splinter ball movement.

There's a 31-point eruption, on 12 of 21 shooting, en route to a 77-68 loss to RC Ketcham. There's a five-game closing stretch in which he averaged 21.8 points, shooting the rock at a 47 percent clip.

Yet what trumps all of this, Hughes' said, was an increased dose of self-assurance. 

"My freshman year, I lacked confidence a bit," said Hughes, readying himself for Syracuse Camp and an upcoming tournament in Atlantic City.

"I have a lot more confidence. It's really helped me not just basketball-wise, but to be who I am. I'm always in the gym working."

There's still ample space to get better and as an incoming junior, time certainly works in Hughes' favor.

Improving on his consistency helped bolster Hughes' scoring, as exemplified through the stretch run. Hughes attributes the change to an increased four quarters of focus and a natural distaste for losing.

"I was just trying to do everything to win, whether it was putting up 25 points or grabbing 10 boards or getting 10 assists, all I want is to win," he explained. "I'm just a competitor, I'll do whatever to win."

Cognizant that transferring to point guard will require him to commandeer the ball handling and spur Beacon's patented breakneck game and guard up on varying positions, Hughes relishes the challenge.

"When you're a point guard everybody is looking at you," Hughes said.

"At how you play, at how you conduct yourself. All eyes are on you. I've been working more at endurance. Becoming a perimeter defender, you need a lot of endurance. Especially being 6-foot-5 and an on-the-ball defender.  I'm going to have to take a leadership role, I have to carry my team. I'm going to have to lead my team in every way I can. These next two years, I have to be more vocal."

Since he was absorbing the game's niceties as a callow fourth grader, the role of quarterback had special appeal to him.

 An aerial game and nose for the net has developed. Hughes gained a 20-foot jumper and shouldered a bulk of the scoring load as a sophomore.

His father, Wayne Hughes, often fields phone calls from a variety of AAU coaches. All are eager to invite Elijah to an upcoming tournament or trying to extend an open roster spot.

Though his aim isn't to squelch hopes, Hughes readily responds with the same response. It's not a company line.

"He only wants to play with the same teammates he's been playing with since he was in fourth grade," said Hughes, citing 12-month team basketball as the primary priority.

Hughes has always leaned on deep jumper as his primary weapon. A newfound knack for freeing himself off the dribble and creating his shot via the bounce has rendered Hughes a more contagious scorer. 

Wayne Hughes has become somewhat of an avid preacher of extra-pass offense. He references the San Antonio Spurs 2014 NBA championship. That squad epitomized TEAM, Hughes rehydrates, pointing out the crisp ball movement and patience in settling for the right look.

"It's definitely a luxury and a plus to have guys I'm familiar with on my side," Elijah Hughes said. "Knowing their games, it helps us tremendously."

Recently, Hughes has been schooled on Beacon's basketball history. He's heard the stories of sharp-dishing guard Collin Powers, the son of Beacon head coach Tom Powers.

He's learned about deceptive high-scoring Roberto Macklin and the 2003 Sectional championship team, which upset Ron Headley-led Peekskill on Josh Fullterton's memorable buzzer-beating corner jumper.

Powers gave Macklin the floor during a pre-practice speech this past season.

One of the Section's prolific scoring leaders his senior season, Macklin's road to LIU-Post was realized after a stopover at Sullivan Community College.

Once indifferent to academics, the point Macklin stressed was simple: The power is in the pencils.

The centerpiece of a 20-5 squad, which advanced to the NYS/Class B Final Four, Macklin explained how an erratic classroom performance altered his path.

Hughes hopes to earn an additional education solving the tight rims of the Westchester County Center.

"Everyone's goal is to make it to the County Center and that's cool," the budding Division-I prospect explained.

"But it's really not complete unless you win the whole thing. That needs to be the goal, the Gold Ball."