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Undersized Delta Junction undeterred by limitations in battle of boards

02/28/2017, 10:15pm AKST
By Van Williams

“Our team is really small, but we have a lot of guys with great instincts for offensive rebounding,” said coach Bruce Reiter.

Delta senior Micah Helkenn is a double-double machine averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds / Photo credit Calvin J. Fifarek

Micah Helkenn symbolizes the determination of the Delta Junction boys basketball team.


The 5-foot-11 senior doesn’t look like much to opponents, but little do they know he’s got the heart of a giant.


“Around the basket he’s the strongest offensive rebounder I have ever coached,” Delta coach Bruce Reiter told me.


Helkenn is an all-state caliber playmaker, a double-double machine averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds per game for the Class 3A fifth-ranked Huskies [16-5].


“I’ve never had a player average that many rebounds,” said Reiter, who has coached at Delta on and off since 1991.


An undersized power forward, Helkenn symbolizes Delta’s fighting spirit in the battle of the boards. Nearly half of his rebounds have come on the offensive end.


Undeterred by their inferior size, the Huskies attack the glass like a dog with a bone.


“This is the smallest team I’ve ever had, but the amazing thing about this team is we’ve won the rebounding battle in almost every game we’ve played this year,” Reiter said. “We have a lot of guys with great instincts for offensive rebounding.”


Delta coaches promote players to attack the offensive glass so much so they keep a chart for every game based on a unique scoring system. Points are awarded for the following: 3 for securing an offensive rebound, 2 for crashing the boards, 1 for taking a step toward the rim, 0 for standing and watching.


“After each game, each kid gets a printout and we talk about it,” Reiter said. “Even if they don’t get every rebound, they realize they are in there trying. We make everyone accountable for that.”


Helkenn is also the main force on the offensive side, where he shoots 56 percent from the floor and scores most of his points around the rim. His high game is 37 and he’s had another game with 31.


“He’s a really strong kid with wide shoulders,” Reiter said. “He gets the ball off a rebound and he’s gone. I don’t know how many times he’s done it, but he he’s gone coast to coast so many times.”


Jean Gonzalez is Delta's second-leading scorer at 11.5 points per game. He's the team's only other double-figure scorer.


But neither Melkenn nor Gonzalez were factors in last week’s 76-53 home win over Valdez. Melkenn didn’t play after the first quarter as he continues to recover from bronchitis and Gonzalez missed the game altogether.


Delta compensated by knocking down a season-high 18 3-pointers, including 7-of-10 from senior Jackson Reiter on his way to scoring a season-high 25 points.


“This team is very balanced,” Coach Reiter said. “Our two leading scorers go out and you play a good team like Valdez, you think wouldn’t stand a chance, but those guys find ways to win.


“This year we’ve had a hard time with illness, injury, ineligibly, and we’ve stumbled through the season, never being full strength. That game was no different.


“Now we’re getting healthy. Everything is coming together. With regions next week it couldn’t have come at a better time.”


Sort of.


Delta will play its final two regular-season games at the end of the week, capped with Friday night’s Senior Salute.


It will be one of the last nights he will coach his son, Jackson. Reiter has made a career coaching other people’s kids, but saying goodbye to his own kids is never easy. He also went through it in 2014 when he coached the Delta girls and daughter Jesslayn.


“I’m not looking forward to it,” Reiter said. “Just doing that [final] game isn’t hard. But in the end, when it’s finally over, that’s when it gets really tough.


“There’s definitely going to be a hole there once he’s gone, a void. It’s kind of tough. I’ve really enjoyed coaching both my daughter and my son. It’s something that we will always have.”


Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.

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