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Petz stepping up for Hays High

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

Hays High School senior guard Nick Petz is a gunslinger.

After spending much of last year on the junior varsity squad, Petz immediately took advantage of his window of opportunity on varsity this season and has emerged as an offensive catalyst and turnover-creating machine.

Hays High coach Rick Keltner said he knows what he's getting out of Petz. He's a fearless shooter that can will his team back into games.

"When I put him in the game, he is going to take some crazy shots, but I know that when I put him in, you've got to take the good with the bad," Keltner said.

Along with senior forward Adam Deterding and freshman guard Isaiah Nunnery, Petz is one of several "newcomers" who have played a significant role in the boys' basketball team's turnaround this winter. They've helped transform last season's 6-15 squad into a team that is 4-0 in early December.

"Coach K said I'm a hired gun, so I just got to come out and shoot the ball like he wants me to," Petz said.  

Petz had his coming out party at the Hays City Shoot-Out, where he averaged 9.7 points per game and hit key shots to help send his team to overtime and an eventual win against Newton in the semifinals.

His play attracted people's attention, and he earned a spot on the all-tournament team despite coming off the bench in every game.

His selection was a surprise to some, but not Hays High senior guard Lane Clark.

"He performed well, so it didn't surprise me at all," Clark said.

Clark said he's seen massive improvement in Petz's game.

"Amazing improvement," Clark said. "He is shooting the ball so much better. He has improved defensively -- everything, he's improved in. It's great."

Then Thursday at Colby, Petz started varsity for the first time in his career in place of injured senior small forward Derek Bixenman (ankle), and Petz scored 11 points.

"He's unconscious," Keltner said. "He can make bombs."

Keltner said he's seen a dramatic improvement in not just Petz's play but also his attitude and work ethic.

Petz said he worked his "butt off" this summer, spending extra time in the weight room and working on his shot. He also trained for hour-long sessions with Fort Hays State University graduate assistant basketball coach Jerrod Stanford.  

Stanford worked with Petz on his ball handling, getting him to dribble lower.

"(Stanford) pushed me," Petz said. "I couldn't be here today if it wasn't for him. He pushed me so hard. I couldn't have done that by myself."

Keltner said Petz spent more time using the shooting machine than anyone else during the offseason, and it's showed this winter.  

Petz is shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range and is second on the team in scoring with 40 points -- eight points behind 6-foot-6 sophomore center Brady Werth.

Heading into the season, Keltner wasn't sure if Petz would even make the varsity roster. After all, he was a below-average defender that lacked strength, so he wasn't a perfect match for Keltner's man defense.  

However, Petz worked on his strength this off-season, and Hays High transitioned to running an aggressive zone defense, which fit Petz's strengths well.

Petz's lanky 6-foot-3 frame made him an ideal fit as an aggressor at the front of Keltner's zone.

"He's got good hands and good reflexes," Keltner said. "He strips the ball all the time."

Instead of a liability on defense, Petz has become a solid defender, averaging 1.5 steals per game. His six steals are tied for the second best on the team.

In fact, Keltner said he recently spoke about Petz's improved defensive play to assistant coach Tim Nunnery, who actually is Petz's uncle through marriage.

"I said, 'Tim, I've gone from saying Nick couldn't play defense well enough to play here, to all of a sudden he could be defensive player of the year if he keeps stealing the ball up front.'"

Petz admitted transitioning from junior varsity to varsity has been different. He went from playing in front of a small crowd against lesser opponents to a gym packed with his screaming peers.

"I've just got to play harder and try not to screw up in front of the crowd," he said.

Keltner said Petz is a "hired gun" -- a role Petz has embraced.

"I've just got to come out and shoot the ball like he wants me to," Petz said. "That's all I can do until he tells me different. For now, it's just shoot the ball and work my butt off on D."