Basketball: Koval gives Chiawana post presence

February 10, 2014 

Hanford vs Chiawana

Chiawana's Victor Koval, right, rebounding, has only played basketball four years but head coch Chad Herron was impressed with his size, athletic ability and willingness to learn.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Victor Koval can still remember his first high school basketball practice as a Chiawana High School freshman in the late fall of 2010.

The 6-foot-4, Ukrainian-born post had never participated in organized athletics before, and it showed.

“Everything was new. I didn’t know how to drop step or pivot. I didn’t know plays, screens. I felt literally lost,” Koval said.

Riverhawks coach Chad Herron, now in his 12th year as a head coach, has seen plenty of talented big men in his time. It’s safe to say he noticed something special in Koval right from the beginning.

Aside from Koval’s raw athletic ability and natural strength, the Chiawana coach appreciated the unique approach the freshman brought to practice.

“In this day and age, too many kids come in thinking they know everything,” Herron said. “Even though he lacked experience coming in, he came in as a clean slate. He’s easily one of the most coachable young men we’ve ever had.”

So Herron and assistants Robert Booth, Kentin Alford and Kelly Herron went to work. With Koval’s daily cooperation, the results have been impressive.

“One of the things I noticed was when you spoke with him, he looked you straight in the eye, and he’s a sponge,” Chad Herron said. “Everything you tell him to work on, he does it. He’s a self starter who gets better every season, and he’s turned himself into one of the premier posts in the league and that we’ve had.”

That’s saying a lot from a man who coached Roby Clyde and Gavin Gilmore while at Pasco. But there’s Koval, right there with them, averaging 11.9 points and more than eight rebounds a game — leading Chiawana in both categories. And he can block a shot, too. He’s got 32 of them this season — an average of 1.7 a game.

“Rejections are always a great feeling,” Koval said, also noting a personal affinity for offensive rebounds. “If you get an offensive rebound, it means you’re outworking the (other) guy.”

He’s done a lot of that this season.

Chiawana started slow, and so did Koval. While the Riverhawks were losing six of their first eight games, Koval averaged just 10.7 points and 6.7 rebounds as Herron searched for the right pace. He chose an up-tempo style that maybe didn’t suit Koval as well as a halfcourt approach.

Once Herron went that direction, the Riverhawks — and Koval — found a rhythm. Over the last eight games — six of them Chiawana wins — Koval has averaged 13.2 points and 10.6 rebounds.

“We’re just working hard and staying focused,” Koval said. “We have a gruop of seniors, and we’re trying to make this a good year for us.”

Chiawana (10-9, 8-6 Mid-Columbia Conference) can continue its recent run of success in the MCC district tournament opener, hosting Pasco (1-19, 0-14) at 7 p.m. today at Riverhawks’ Gym in Pasco. The winner will travel to Walla Walla (13-7, 9-5) at 7 p.m. Friday for a chance to represent the MCC at the District 5/8 Regional tournament in Spokane.

Of the eight seniors on the Riverhawks squad, Koval has played with four of them — Lance Harris, Wesley Henderson, Kayden Maughan and Aaric Wren — since his freshman season.

“Victor has always been an unsung hero. People never give him the credit, but for him to grow as quickly as he did and be such a huge factor, we really needed that,” Henderson said. “He’s come through when we needed him the most.”

Koval also credits the experience he got from playing AAU basketball last spring with helping him find a comfort zone he may have been missing. The Sagebrush Hoops squad that featured Harris, Henderson and Wren — as well as MCC standouts Jacob Devries, Mitch Mueller, Gabe Porter and Payton Radliff — helped him grow in more ways than one.

“Victor has always been great in practice, but when it came to playing under the lights and the crowd, it had him a little shook,” Henderson said. “From traveling to play all types of (AAU) games in front of all types of crowds, he learned how to relax when the game came around. Now he’s composed and able to play with less pressure.”

Away from basektball, Koval glady trades TV time to play outside with any of his five younger brothers and sisters. He’ll even share some of his basketball knowledge with them. And as good as Koval is, he believes his little brother Alex could be even better.

“He’s going to be taller than me. He could be a guard and a big man,” Victor said.

A 5-3 seventh-grader at McLoughlin Middle School, Alex has learned the finer points of post play from his older brother but has excelled as a point guard and 3-point specialist, hitting more than 50 percent of his shots from behind the line.

“I always love watching (Victor),” Alex said, noting that getting to play alongside of him is even better. “We play at Liberty Park in Pasco. Once we played for like 2-3 hours before we got tired.”

Once an inexperienced student, Koval revels in the chance to teach someone else about the game he loves.

“I like everything about basketball. It’s just a fun sport,” he said.

w Jack Millikin; 582-1406; jmillikin@tricityherald.com

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