BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DANVILLE — Don’t expect to see John Wood sophomore T.J. Tisdale making his way on ESPN’s SportsCenter this week.
That just isn’t how the 6-foot-7 forward has operated this season for the Trail Blazers.
Instead, Tisdale, the only returning player for John Wood’s Region 24 runner-up team from a year ago, has averaged 20.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, helping the Trail Blazers not only claim their first-ever Mid-West Athletic Conference title, but the school’s first NJCAA Division II National Tournament appearance since 1996.
“I just work hard — that’s my mentality,’’ said a reserve Tisdale on Monday night at John Wood prepares to play Central Community College of Columbus, Neb. in a first-round game. “My goal is to try to outwork the guys in front of me. I don’t care how high you can jump or how well you can shoot — it’s all about the work for me.
“I feel like I’ve put in the work this year to be in the position and I will continue to do that.’’
But, as you watch John Wood play tonight at the Mary Miller Gymnasium, don’t be surprised if you look up the scoreboard and see that Tisdale has score more than 20 points.
“Sometimes, he has really quiet games,’’ said John Wood freshman guard Jordan Johnson. “One time earlier this season, he finished with 30 points and 16 rebounds. None of us realized it, because it seemed like he only shot the ball like five times.’’
Tisdale is just the type of player that John Wood coach Brad Hoyt likes to have in his program.
“He is a really good kid and he spends a lot of time in my office,’’ Hoyt said. “But, when you watch film on him and you wonder how he puts up numbers, because he is sort of goofy looking, but he is pretty effective.’’
Hoyt also points out that John Wood brought the right kid back for this season.
After reaching the Region 24 final a year ago, and losing to the eventual NJCAA Division II National Champion, the Rend Lake Warriors, Hoyt basically brought in a brand-new team for this season.
“That was a little different, I wasn’t sure about it when it happened,’’ Tisdale said. “I had built a lot of good friendships.’’
But Tisdale admitted that he trusted the coaching staff, and after a rocky start where John Wood was 5-7 after its first 12 games, the team came together and everything started to click.
“I don’t know that anyone saw what is happening now,’’ he said. “This is an amazing feeling and it’s a new experience for me and everyone else on this team. (Tonight), it’s going be a whole new world for us and we’re getting ourselves prepared to win this.’’
Being the only returning player, a lot was expected early on from Tisdale, but as Johnson said, “as the team spread out the responsibilities, that’s when we started clicking.’’
“T.J. is a great leader and post presence,’’ Johnson said. “But, he also needed our help. We couldn’t expect him to carry the entire load all by himself.’’
The Trail Blazers won 17 of their 19 games after their Christmas break, including six straight heading into tonight’s 8:30 p.m. contest against Fort Scott. And making the school’s first appearance in the National Tournament in 18 years is pretty special.
“Our sophomores last year were talking about making the National Tournament almost every day,’’ Tisdale said. “You could see how passionate they were about it and how badly they wanted to get here. As a freshman, I don’t think I had any idea what that meant. Now, as a sophomore, you look at things completely different.
“Looking at it right now, coach has put the pieces together and we’re doing what we are supposed to do. We’re here and we’re going to try to win this tournament.’’
For Tisdale’s accomplishments this season, he averaged 22.8 points and 12.4 rebounds a game in conference action, he was named the Region 24 Player of the Year.
“I was very surprised,’’ he said. “I had put in a lot of work during the summer and during the preseason, but I didn’t expect anything like this.’’
So, how did is happen?
“It was a combination of confidence and trust,’’ he said. “Coach trusted me and I trusted him. As things have happened this year, I’ve just gotten a lot of confidence in myself and it continues to build.’’
Tisdale wasn’t a highly recruited player out of Cape Central High School in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
“I think I had one offer from an (NCAA) Division II school and few other junior colleges,’’ he said. “I had a friend that was going to John Wood during my senior year, James Lane, he kind of talked me into going threre.
“There was something about getting away from Missouri and I really liked Coach Hoyt.’’
It’s turned into a pretty good decision, but you are going to have to watch and listen closely to see just how good it’s been for Tisdale.