It is a problem that may have plagued star athletes and their coaches as long as there have been star athletes.
When does the good of the team become compromised in order to let its best player perform at his peak?
This question needs to be answered in Bonners Ferry, where senior guard Adam Hiatt, arguably the best player in North Idaho, and Badgers coach Ken Robertson have struggled to find that delicate balance.
“Adam is really enjoyable to watch,” Robertson said. “He’s a great player, but sometimes we have to rein him back to keep everyone on the team involved.”
When Hiatt holds the reins, slowing down isn’t an option. He is the premier open-court player in the area, averaging 19.6 points a game. When in control of the offense, Hiatt makes things happen by driving to the basket when guarded too closely or shooting over defenders who respect his speed too much.
Perhaps the best example of his dominating play took place in the second half of last Saturday’s loss to visiting Moscow. Hiatt lit up the Bears for 22 points in the half, including four straight trips down the floor. Each time, he converted three-point plays by driving and getting fouled by a Moscow defense that was back on its heels.
“I don’t like standing and shooting,” Hiatt said. “When I’m bringing the ball down the court, I’m looking to get to the basket.”
Another problem the Badgers run into is their tendency to turn into spectactors when Hiatt goes to the basket.
“He needs to dish the ball when defenses collapse on him, and we’re improving on getting open instead of standing around watching him,” Robertson said.
That improvement could be a key to seeing Bonners Ferry (5-4 overall, 2-2 in league) turn around a season that has gone sour. After being picked to finish first in the preseason, the Badgers played well early, including a win against Lakeland in the Intermountain League opener.
Then things started downhill.
On Jan. 4, against Post Falls, Hiatt returned to the lineup after missing three weeks. He had aggravated a back injury originally suffered playing football. In the first half of that game, Hiatt scored 20 points and the Badgers went into the locker room with the lead. Hiatt was held to six points in the second half and the Trojans came back to win, starting the team’s downward spiral.
“Hiatt’s definitely one of the best players in the area,” Post Falls coach Scott Moore said. “We really had to be aware of where he was in the second half to slow him down.”
The losses have continued in league games against St. Maries and Moscow before ending Tuesday at Priest River.
Hiatt had a season-low two points against Priest River, which used a box-and-one defense.
Hiatt couldn’t sleep after the loss to St. Maries, a team few expected to beat Bonners Ferry. His return was expected to provide a spark. But the two league losses have left him to wonder why.
“I expected so much and we’re not doing it,” Hiatt said. “If we’re going to get this team turned around, we better do it fast.”
Hiatt’s back still hurts. He can barely sit still while talking about the more uncomfortable subject of the team’s woes. He’s also uncomfortable on the court, where he regularly sees defensive schemes geared to stop him.
“He wants to win so bad that it’s become really frustrating for him lately,” Robertson said. “The whole team’s frustrated right now, so we have to play well as a team to turn it around.”
If the Badgers can’t rally, it would be a crushing end to what has been a great year so far for Hiatt. He was named all-state at running back for the football team, which was the surprise champion of the league. There has been some football recruiting interest, but Hiatt’s first love is basketball.
Despite the frustration he feels now, Hiatt thinks the Badgers can turn the season around.
“We have the talent to play tough because in practice we’re all shooting well and playing as a team,” Hiatt said. “We haven’t found that balance in a game lately and we’re not having any fun.”