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Villa Park senior Evan Battey is consoled by AD Tom Fox after a loss in the CIF Division 2AA championship game. (Photo by Bill Alkofer,Orange County Register/SCNG)

Miller: Battey stays true to Villa Park basketball

STAFF COLUMNIST

ANAHEIM – - He has practiced with them, sweated with them and grown with them. All season long.

So, when it was over Saturday, after Villa Park ran long on heart but short on time in losing to Colony High of Ontario, 74-70, for the CIF-SS Division 2AA title, Evan Battey cried with them, too.

“I didn’t expect to cry,” he said later. “It was kind of like a last plea. It hurt real bad to not see them win a championship. I feel like I’ve put my heart and soul into this team.”

Oh, Battey has put in so much more than just that. Heart and soul, yes, but a lot of players on a lot of teams in a lot of sports can say the same thing.

Battey also put in every remaining ounce of his being and his body, no small contribution since he measures 6-foot-7, 235 pounds.

See, he didn’t have to be at Honda Center for this game. In fact, no one could have blamed Battey had he been nowhere near Villa Park this entire school year.

Ruled by CIF officials to have exhausted his eligibility, Battey, a senior, could have transferred to a prep academy months ago and continued a playing career that saw him make All-County last season.

Instead, a kid talented enough to earn a scholarship to Colorado, decided to put that immense talent on hold, someone used to playing starter’s minutes willingly choosing a benchwarmer’s fate.

And who says young people today have no patience? No sense of commitment? No loyalty?

Battey has risen up and slam-dunked those notions as emphatically as he has opted this winter to not try a single slam dunk.

“When you play for something that you love, you get attached to it,” Battey said. “I had to make a decision that was about more than just playing. I thought I would regret not being with my guys more than not being on the floor.”

He was there with his guys Saturday. There with encouragement during timeouts, there with hugs and high-fives whenever needed and there, as the Spartans charged back during a third-quarter rally, with waving arms to implore the crowd.

The scene has played out this way all season, Battey creating the hybrid position of non-player/coach and doing it so well that Villa Park coach Kevin Reynolds said his court-side counsel will be missed.

“We’re kind of upset he’s leaving because we could use the coaching help next year,” Reynolds said. “We didn’t lose Evan. We just changed his role. He’s as much a part of this team as any guy who made a shot or took a rebound.”

So Battey was out there after the game, near mid-court, accepting Villa Park’s runner-up plaque along with teammates Myles and Julien Franklin.

And he was there later, at the Spartans’ news conference, standing in the back of the room in a sign of support.

Battey was the one who, at the conclusion of the questions and answers, made a point to approach every reporter present and offer a handshake.

And who says young people today have no class?

“You’re not going to find a more quality kid around,” Villa Park athletic director Tom Fox said. “I really believe that. Evan will be amazing at whatever he does. He’s just that kind of kid.”

The issue with Battey’s eligibility dates to his time at Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, where he repeated his freshman year and then stayed as a sophomore.

Although he played basketball only two of those three years, his eight semesters of athletic eligibility expired after he transferred and spent his junior year at Villa Park.

“To have to deal with that adversity and not have any hurt in his heart toward CIF or toward anyone for his situation is impressive,” Fox said. “He owns it. He’s moving forward.”

That helps explain why Battey was selected this year from among all of Villa Park’s boys athletes for an award recognizing character.

And this is an athlete, remember, who isn’t actually playing, Battey only practicing with his teammates and working so hard on his individual skills that he said, “Physically, this has been my best year of basketball, honestly.”

His academics also have been solid and his school spirit never better. When the Spartans’ girls volleyball team played its first game, Battey was one of the few students in the stands.

When Villa Park’s girls water polo team had a playoff game, Battey organized a group of basketball players who attended.

“People can think I’m crazy for not going to play with a random bunch of guys,” Battey said. “But they don’t know how much I love my players, my school and my administration. They’ve done everything for me. They’ll all-in for me.”

And he has been all-in for them, one of the finest high school basketball players in Southern California standing tall this season by sitting on the bench.

Contact the writer: jmiller@scng.com


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