Latest Issue

Habalar’s Moment

It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that anyone who has played basketball with a sense of proficiency hasn’t at one time or another conjured up thoughts about becoming a 1,000-point scorer, hearing the roar of the crowd, and having his/her name go up on the gymnasium wall.

Visit any area gym, and you’ll find banners on the wall listing those individuals who have achieved the coveted milestone. To the casual fan, it may not even seem that unusual as talented players continue to reach the mark. Just this season, St. John Neumann’s Davion Hill blew by the 2,000-point mark, and Muncy’s Ross Eyer reached the four-digit plateau.

But as January’s final day ticked off the calendar, it was South Williamsport’s turn for a 1,000-point celebration, which had been a long time coming. In the lengthy history of South basketball, only 16 players had etched their name in the exclusive club: eleven of those players being girls.

Wikipedia refers to six degrees of separation as “the idea that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other.” In a packed and raucous Mountaineer gymnasium, senior Lee Habalar reached that 1,000th-point club while giving concrete credence that Wikipedia’s reference also applies to basketball.

Habalar now joins a six-pack of South boys’ hoopsters, including Jim Nolan, Carl Nolan, Jason Perry, J.J. Manikowski, and Nick Koletar, the last to do it in 2013. Ironically, both Manikowski and Kolter are coaches on this year’s South staff, while Perry, who holds the single-game school record of 54 points, was on-hand to witness Habalar’s accomplishment.

Saddled with early foul trouble in that memorable January 31 game against visiting Muncy, Habalar’s shining moment never arrived until 4:20 remained in the fourth quarter after a right baseline jump shot cleanly swished thru the net, giving the Mountaineers a five-point 43-38 led they never relinquished on the way to a 50-45 victory.

“That moment was surreal,” an appreciative Habalar revealed in a post-game reaction. “It’s something I’ve been anticipating for the last couple of days, but I knew it would eventually come, but it didn’t feel real when I saw the shot go thru the net.

“The atmosphere was so great. The band was here, I had a ton of family here, friends, and classmates. Muncy brought a big crowd, the gym was sold out, it was gold-out night, and it was just nuts.

“It has been an honor to have the coaches I do who support me and point things out and helps make me a better player every day in practice. I don’t think I could have set this up any better if I had tried. It was so exciting.

“Entering my freshman year Coach Houseknecht [former South coach Rob Houseknecht] talked to me and said he thought if I took this game seriously, I could accomplish some great things. At the time, I didn’t realize what an accolade 1,000 points really meant. My freshman year, I came out and really just shot the 3-ball. My sophomore year went pretty well, and entering my junior year, I began to think this could really happen.

“Coming into this year, it was a goal of mine, but I didn’t want it to be the sole focus of the season. Getting to this point, I think I have been playing better team basketball, not worrying about getting 1,000 because the whole team has been backing me up.”

Habalar’s coach Joe Simon watched appreciably at the excitement surrounding his player as the post-game congratulations continued. He understood. He had lived the moment.

“Back when I got my 1,000th, I just wanted to get it done and over with. It’s crazy, but I was in the same scenario as Lee. Just as he did, I needed five points coming into the game, which, crazily enough, was against South when I played for Bucktail. They held me to just before halftime until I got it.”

South Williamsport Junior Varsity assistant coach Rick Moser was himself an extension of the six degrees of separation. It was Moser, then playing for South, who was assigned to guard Simon on the night he scored his 1,000th. Needless to say, it has been a continued conversation piece for the two coaches now sitting on the same bench.

“Right after the game, Lee said to me what a great win it was,” Simon added. “It’s something you want to accomplish, but at the end of the day, you just want to win the game. He got into some early foul trouble and may have forced a few shots. That 1,000th didn’t fall until the fourth quarter, so I had a feel for what he was going through.”

For Mountaineer JV coach Nick Koletar, Habalar’s shot produced a 13-year-old flashback.

“When that 1,000th point went thru the net, it was an emotional moment for me. I got chills going up and down because it took me back to 13 years ago when I experienced the same accomplishment. The crowd was bigger tonight than when I did it, but what a great atmosphere it was. The gym was rocking with the pep band and the fans cheering like they did.

“I know this will be something Lee can take pride in. When I come to the gym, I’m aware of my name being on that banner, but that’s just face value. It really sparks memories of the guys you played with and the fun times you had, the bus rides, the goofing off with teammates – that’s what it means to me.

“What a turn of events this is for me. This is my first year coaching the team, and maybe it’s fate, but it has been cool to be part of it. Think about it; how ironic it is that the last three South 1,000-point scores are all on the team right now.”

Varsity assistant coach JJ Manikowski was in awe of the proceedings taking place before him.

“I knew coming into the season this was an achievable goal for Lee. I’m really proud of him, and it is a reminder of just how much hard work it takes to get there.

“How about this crowd? For me, this made the moment even more exciting and memorable for Lee. For me, the memory is still fresh from back in 1999 when I was able to reach 1,000. It came on a foul shot at CMVT with maybe 50 or 60 people in the stands. This was absolutely great. You could make a movie out of this one.

“What I remember about that was the coach and all the players from CMVT all came out and congratulated me standing there on the foul line. CMVT gave me the actual game ball, which I still have. The achievement and sportsmanship displayed towards me that night are still fresh in my mind.”

Standing third on South’s scoring parade with 1,637 points, Jason Perry had many memorable moments in the Mountaineer gym and expressed his pride in welcoming Habalar to the banner on the wall.

“Coming back to the gym, it felt almost like it was yesterday when I scored my 1,000th point. I remember the moment well. It came on a baseline jumper in 1998 against Loyalsock on Valentine’s Day. I have an idea what Lee has been going through, and the way he handled it was pretty great. Lee is a solid player and gets a lot of his points inside the offensive, and is a pretty unselfish kid on the floor. I think it is a great thing for his name to go on that banner.”

Pretty spooky stuff. Simon, Koletar, Manikowski, Perry, Moser, and Habalar now all entwined in South Williamsport’s past and present basketball fortunes. It is a night they shared and will long remember.