PLANO – At 6-foot-4, Kaneland senior forward Blake Feiza is often asked to go to work on the block offensively giving up a significant amount of size.
On Dec. 30 in the consolation bracket championship against Mendota at the Plano Christmas Classic, that meant giving up eight inches to Trojans center Blake Stamberger. However, 7-footer or not, Feiza displayed the same fearlessness that he had all tournament.
“You really just have to take it at him and try to get him in foul trouble. You know he’s going to try to block shots, so shot-faking was huge today,” Feiza said after dropping 20 points in a 50-36 win.
And while the trophy Kaneland took home for finishing in 17th place might seem unnecessarily flattering, it symbolizes three straight wins to end the tournament for the Knights to help get their season back on track.
“We started a little rough because we lost to Lisle in a tough game and we definitely bounced back from that,” Feiza said. “Winning three games was huge. Senior year, it’s a great way to end it.”
A year prior, Feiza also led Kaneland in scoring averaging 9.8 points per game – but the team went just 1-3 at Plano. This season, Feiza more than doubled his scoring average with 20 points per game for the tournament.
“This year I’ve become more of our main scorer,” Feiza said. “So the mindset of knowing that’s my role has forced me to change my game.”
The added responsibility of having a healthy percentage of the offense running through his hands on the block comes additional challenges, though.
Because when everybody knows you're the primary option in a tournament where you play four games in five days in front of all your opponents, you know teams are going to scheme to take you away while playing a lot of minutes.
"It makes it really hard because he doesn't get a chance to rest," Kaneland coach Joe Conroy said. "He came into the season banged up so trying to find that rest for him, we just couldn't do it."
Yet, Feiza managed to have an impact in every game. He scored 10 points despite foul trouble in the loss to Lisle, poured in 31 in a win over Hinckley-Big Rock and dropped 19 in a win over Coal City before his 20-point performance against Mendota.
Those performances earned him a spot on the all-tournament team and helped energize the team when they needed it most. And the end result was a team that went from 2-7 to 5-8 on the season.
But the Knights know they have to build off their finish at Plano or it was all for naught.
Kaneland gets back into conference play on Jan. 5 against Rochelle.
"We're starting to find our identity," Conroy said. "But now we're getting into conference play and there are a lot of great coaches and great players. So they'll prep for us every day and we have to be able to counter what they're going to do. What are they going to take away and how are we going to find success once they take it away?"