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Geneva girls basketball: Shift from post to point guard nearly seamless for Santos

Geneva's Sidney Santos shoots between Naperville North's Cece Pope (left) and Josie Warren on Dec. 15 in Naperville, winning 43-32.
Geneva's Sidney Santos shoots between Naperville North's Cece Pope (left) and Josie Warren on Dec. 15 in Naperville, winning 43-32.

GENEVA – Joe Santos strongly encouraged his daughters to devote time to dribbling apart from their usual childhood basketball practices. It didn’t matter that neither was built like a ballhandler.

“You never know,” smiled Geneva junior Sidney Santos, recently remembering her father’s rationale.

Yup, you never do.

Initially pegged as a post player entering the season, the 6-foot Santos has found truth in her dad’s words while starting at point guard for the past month. She’ll score from the paint when she can, but largely has been effective from the outside and as, ahem, a distributor.

“I was really nervous at first, but the most important thing is just being confident and trying to keep your head,” Santos said. “I mean, there are still games where it’s frustrating, where I wish I didn’t have that turnover or had made that pass, but it’s still coming along.”

Blessed with dynamic guard play that steered it toward plenty of postseason success in past winters, Geneva anticipated a shift toward a more post-heavy existence in 2012-13.

Reigning Kane County Chronicle Player of the Year Sami Pawlak, another 6-footer, returned to the lineup along with 5-foot-10 sophomore Abby Novak. Add Sidney Santos – the younger sister of former Viking and Marquette freshman Ashley – to the fold after a series of ACL injuries to start her high school career, and Geneva understandably was thinking big.

When speedy point guard Michaela Loebel suffered an ACL tear in late November, however, the Vikings again were sent scrambling. The team scaled back its traditional 1-2-2 full-court diamond press out of concern for matchup problems.

At some point, coach Sarah Meadows knew she’d have to play her posts out of position. As a result, Novak often defends the opposing point guard while Santos calls names of plays as she brings the ball upcourt.

A night after St. Charles East downed the Vikings in overtime, Meadows inserted Santos into the lineup at point guard for a blowout victory against Elgin, citing her overall versatility and experience as a small forward during AAU ball. Santos honed her outside shot during preseason, well before Loebel’s injury.

“Sid handles the ball and sees the court great. We just made that switch,” Meadows said. “We didn’t really ask her to be the [point guard] until after that point, and she was ready for it. She wants to do whatever’s best for the team, and that’s the kind of kid she is.”

Flanking Santos after a recent practice, Novak told her teammate, “You look so confident with the ball. Yes, you do.”

Novak and Pawlak also have offered support from ball pressure when Santos requires it.

“Each game, it’s slowly getting easier,” Santos said. “When teams press us, I know I have these two. I pass it to [Pawlak] at half court and Abby just flies in for a layup, so it’s not just all on me. I have my whole team helping me bring it up.”

Geneva, 9-8 entering Saturday’s trip to St. Charles North, has played its share of tight games in the first half of the season. Players acknowledge an adjustment period to several new setups, but refuse to use it as a crutch.

The Vikings spent much of their break after the challenging Naperville North/Benet holiday tournament stressing more patience in the half-court offense. A related strategy includes creating second touches for Santos after her initial passes.

Santos has dabbled in double figures since the switch, and closed tournament play with 12 points in a narrow loss to Benet in the third-place game. Meadows tells Santos her body “knows how to do that now,” meaning score effectively.

A converted guard from her developmental days, Pawlak agrees with the muscle memory theory. She relied on early ballhandling drills to be especially dangerous in transition last season.

“When you play guard, that kind of almost sticks with you. The fundamentals do, at least,” Pawlak said. “You’re obviously not going to be as good as the [starting] point guard out there, but you’ll at least have that confidence and experience that you had when you were younger.”

Thanks to her father, a native Puerto Rican who played professionally in his homeland in the 1980s, Santos is starting to attest.

“He was right,” Santos said. “You never know.”

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