Grinning and Winning: HSE Standout Zak Irvin
At 6-foot-8, Hamilton Southeastern High School senior basketball standout Zak Irvin is easy to pick out in a crowd. He’s usually the tallest player on the floor. he scores – and ofttimes he scores in bunches – and some of his dunks are downright spectacular.
He also has this contagious smile every time he takes out his mouthpiece. For some reason, the way he takes it out and the way that white mouthpiece even seems a tad big for his mouth really stands out. “I guess I really don’t notice it,” he said, nodding his head after a practice session. “I just usually have something to say so I take it out as I run over to my guys to talk to them. I guess maybe I’ve heard someone mention that before (about the mouthpiece), but I’ve been doing that for so long that the mouthpiece must be second nature to me.”
Crediting those who have helped him along the way, such as former teammate Gary Harris, the 2012 Indiana Mr. Basketball, Irvin comes across as just natural when he talks about his development. “I knew I had the potential to be good, but Gary helped me in so many ways in my improvement as a player. I saw how he used his body to drive to the basket and how to get to the free-throw line for one thing. He just really helped me get better in a lot of ways. Off the court, he was very humble and respectable; I’m very much the same way. He led by example, and that’s what I try to do.”
Irvin’s development has been quite impressive for those who’ve watched him grow as player and person the past two seasons.“The biggest thing about Zak Irvin today compared to his younger days is his maturity. As a freshman, he didn’t get to play varsity – he had to learn what it takes. He may not have liked not being on the varsity then, but I think he’s benefitted from it,” said his coach, Brian Satterfield. “As a sophomore he was just in a crowd, sort of a follower, though obviously a good player who has gotten even better. He’s embraced getting others involved,” said his coach.
“Sure, we want him to take the last-second shot, and I’m glad he wants the ball, but he’s willing to make an extra pass to help someone else who might be open. Zak is stronger, and he’s going to the boards much more this season and attacking off the dribble. He’s gained a great deal of confidence in himself and he has taken the next step.” Zak Irvin has gone from being good to becoming an impact player, and he is arguably the best high school senior basketball player in the state.
Is he Mr. Basketball this season? Well, he certainly would appear to be the leading candidate. “I’ve heard that talk and I hope it happens, but that’s not where my focus is,” he said. “I want to do my best and to help the other guys. For us to win the sectional, I have to be a team player, get everyone involved, and lead by example. When I’m double teamed, I need to get the ball to someone else. I’m double-teamed a lot, and I know it’s going to continue to happen.”
“In my opinion, Zak Irvin is the most complete player in Indiana. I really believe he will be Mr. Basketball,” said Zionsville coach Shaun Busick. “He’s very tall, long, and skillful. He is also a great defender. His ability to shoot the 3, drive and finish, as well as post up, makes him virtually unstoppable. “I also believe he will have an immediate impact at Michigan next year. It is also not out of the realm of possibility to believe that he will play in the NBA in a few years. The sky is the limit for the young man.”
Busick also said that what makes Irvin so impressive is the fact that he is an unselfish team player and a very respectful young man. Said Noblesville coach David McCollough on watching his development the past few years: “I have watched the development of Zak the past four years. He was the perfect sidekick to Gary Harris, the Pippin to Jordan! I was curious to see how he would be as the lead player. He has been great! He has developed his game from an outside shooter to a hard-to-defend scorer. Everyone knew he could shoot; but he has taken his game up a couple levels with his ability to get to the rim, his rebounding, and his presence on defense. He has lead his team the way All Star players lead their teams. He is in charge, and his teammates know he is in charge. The traits he has developed will take him to the next level, as they did Gary Harris. He should be an impact player immediately at the next level. He is a player you have to respect and wish you had on your team.”
Irvin averages 25-plus points and 9.6 rebounds, and he’s an excellent 3-point shooter.
“He’s so hard to defend. He’s so long. With his length and the way he can get his shot off it’s really hard to defend him,” Satterfield said. “There have been times that, when I thought he had taken some bad shots, I just remind him that he can get his shot off whenever he wants because of his length.”
Irvin said that everything he does is about winning, that he has a deep, burning desire to win. He also credits his parents James and Marcia Irvin, both good athletes in their own right. “They’ve been a great influence on me since I was little,” said Zak, who passed the 1,000-point career milestone in early January, becoming the sixth male student-athlete to reach that plateau in HSE history.
His dad, known as Big Irv, is 6-5. He played collegiate ball at Texas Pan American. His mom was a standout at Lawrence North High School, and played basketball at Southern Indiana University. His uncle, Charlie (Merriweather), his mom’s brother, and a basketball player at Lawrence North, also played at North Idaho College. And, oh yes, there’s another Irvin coming up. Zak’s sister, Tayah, is a sixth grader. Zak says she’s pretty good.
Zak is emphatic about where his focus is this season. “I want to win the sectional (Sectional 8 is February 26, March 1-2 at Carmel). That has to be be our focus. We were ranked No. 1 last year and not only did we lose to Carmel, but we were humiliated,” he said, matter of factly. “We lost three starters from that team, and I try and convey my disappointment to my teammates and what it’ll take to win this year. We all know – believe me.” The leader of the team isn’t about to let anyone lose sight of the goal.
That’s a given.
You see, keeping focused isn’t a problem for Zak Irvin. He said he has that final sectional score (82-63) locked into his cell phone, so each time he opens it, he’s reminded. “That game was such a low point because of the talent we had and the possibility of winning the state. We thought we’d win it all. I was just sick. I still am sick about what happened. I look at that score before every game. That really motivates me. If we keep winning and win the sectional, then good things can happen. We’re working on depth, but our five starters are pretty good.” And could one of those good things be a Mr. Basketball award? “Yeah,” he said. “If we keep winning, then it could be a great opportunity.”
Zak said he’ll be a 2 guard at Michigan next season. He’s working on his dribbling and ball handling, and he realizes he’ll need to bulk up before heading to Ann Arbor.
He’ll also be reunited with Michigan State’s Gary Harris at least for 2 games each of the next three seasons – unless both end up as early entries in the NBA draft. “Yep, l look forward to seeing him and, of course, I want to beat him,” Zak said with a basketball-size smile.
When asked if he had any superstitions, Zak said he wasn’t big in such things. But in one breath he also said he always listens to music and wears head phones while relaxing before games, and in another breath he said he always has a Subway sandwich before each game.
When asked how he would like to be remembered after his playing days, he said, “I’m really just a down-to-earth kid. I’ve always loved the game of basketball. I’ve always wanted to win, and I always played hard and left it all on the floor.”
Yep, a pretty good way to be remembered.