After spending countless hours of his free time practicing his shot for the last decade, Bartlett standout Luke Labedzki has become familiar with the reverberating sound of basketball against hardwood echoing throughout an empty gymnasium.
A 6-foot-1, 18-year-old resident of Carol Stream, Labedzki has always been a tireless worker. Whether he was playing with the Bloomingdale Blue Devils in grade school, at Eastview Middle School in Bartlett, with the Illinois Kings AAU team, with his travel team at the Bulls/Sox Training Academy in Lisle or for the Bartlett High School Hawks, he normally stayed late for extra shooting.
When someone finally kicked him out of a gym to lock up, he'd find somewhere else to shoot. He couldn't get enough looks at the basket.
"He's definitely someone you'd consider a gym rat in terms of someone who's always in the gym, always working," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "I'm guessing when he's 45 or 50 years old he'll still be able to find ways to score a basket. He's worked very hard on that aspect of his game."
Those hours of practice paid off when Labedzki arrived on the scene as a Bartlett freshman. He had played with the sophomore team during summer camp, but it was soon apparent he possessed the ability to play at the varsity level. Plus, Labedzki filled a need.
"At the time we needed a scorer," former Bartlett coach Tom Lamberti said of his decision to elevate Labedzki to the varsity roster for the 2006-07 season. "We knew he was a very, very hard-nosed kid who understood the game. He was not afraid at all of the challenge. The kid had the maturity and certainly had the skills. We would have done him a big disservice by leaving him down on the lower-level teams. He was that good."
Labedzki went on to play four years of high school varsity basketball just like his father, Casey, who played four years on the varsity at Chicago-Kennedy. As a sophomore he scored 411 points for a team that reached a sectional title game, and he posted 477 more points as a junior.
Early this season the senior surpassed 2002 Bartlett graduate Anthony Maestranzi as Bartlett's all-time leading scorer. He will finish his high school career with better than 1,400 points.
Entering regional play this week, Labedzki had scored 435 points in 25 games to lead the area with an average of 17.4 points per game. He was shooting 131 of 226 from 2-point range (58 percent), 36 of 117 from the 3-point line (30.8 percent) and 65 of 82 from the free-throw line (79.3 percent). He had also contributed 3.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game.
For his outstanding senior season, Bartlett senior guard Luke Labedzki has been named an Honorary Co-Captain of the 2009-10 Daily Herald All-Area team. He shares the award with South Elgin senior guard Tommy Childs, whose team made Labedzki the focus of its defense in last Friday's 66-62 victory for the Storm.
"He can put up points in bunches," Childs said. "I've seen some of the tapes and the things he did last year. The guy can shoot. That's why we had to tag him all game."
Labedzki was always the tallest player on his teams growing up and usually played in the post.
"I was always the leading scorer," he said. "That was the only thing I really focused on as a kid. I never really cared about defense. Win, shoot, score - that's all I cared about. My dad always worked on my shot with me. Everyone knew that was going to be my strong point because I wasn't going to be the fastest kid."
As Labedzki's high school career evolved, so did his overall game. Sensing a need to become a better defender, he concentrated on his defense last spring during the AAU season with the Illinois Kings. Coach Greg Ktistou tabbed Labedzki to defend the opponent's best player, and the team went on to finish a respectable 13th in the country in their age group.
"One of Luke's best qualities is that he knows his weaknesses and he works on them," Wolfsmith said. "That's a bigger strength than I think most people realize. If we know what we need to work on and work on it as opposed to pretending that it doesn't exist, that makes a difference."
Labedzki said improving his ballhandling skills is next up on his to-do list.
"Dribbling is my big weakness," said Labedzki, who nonetheless limited his turnovers this season to 1.6 per game. "I need to work on that more for college because I may have to bring the ball up more. At Bartlett I don't really have to do that because we have so many point guards. Next year I'm going to need it."
Labedzki is keeping his college options open at this point. After the season ends he plans to spend at least a month visiting several colleges, mainly in the NCAA Division II and III and NAIA Division I and II range. NCAA Division I Jacksonville University of the Atlantic Sun Conference has made an offer, "but Florida is pretty far away," Labedzki said.
Whichever college coach signs Bartlett's career scoring leader will be landing a fierce competitor who can fill up the basket.
"He's got a desire to win," Wolfsmith said. "He's got the ability to score at odd angles along with shooting the ball from deep, and he shoots free throws real well. And he's a very personable kid. He gets along with his teammates."
His future college should issue Labedzki a set of keys so he can lock up the empty gymnasium long after practice has ended. After all, he intends to stay late.
Captains honor roll
1995-96 - Muamer Karamovic (St. Edward)
1996-97 - Kevin Jarm (Elgin)
1997-98 - Sean Harrington (Elgin)
1998-99 - Sean Harrington (Elgin) and T.J. Sportsman (Burlington Central)
1999-2000 - Marcus Smallwood (Elgin) and Marcus Howard (Elgin)
2000-01 - Jason Kalsow (Huntley) and Pat Kalamatas (Huntley)
2001-02 - Anthony Maestranzi (Bartlett)
2002-03 - Eric Vierneisel (Jacobs)
2003-04 - Eric Vierneisel (Jacobs) and Phil Wallace (Crystal Lake South)
2004-05 - Ryan Brown (Crystal Lake South) and Kas Wleklinski (Burlington Central)
2005-06 - Dayvon Ellis (Larkin) and Sam Lynch (Dundee-Crown)
2006-07 - John Moran (Jacobs) and Cully Payne (Burlington Central)
2007-08 - John Moran (Jacobs) and Mike McCurdy (Burlington Central)
2008-09 - Conrad Krutwig (Jacobs) and Marc Little (Bartlett)
2009-10 - Tommy Childs (South Elgin) and Luke Labedzki (Bartlett)