By Lee Davis
Luke Toulitatos will freely admit he doesn’t suffer from stage fright.
The rising senior at Homewood isn’t an actor. He’s a basketball player. He’s always in his comfort zone on a basketball court with the game on the line.
“I never get nervous,” Toulitatos said. “I seem to play better when the pressure is turned up a little bit. I enjoy the big stage.”
Patriot fans are glad he does.
Toulitatos turned in an endless stream of clutch performances in Homewood’s drive to the state Class 6A basketball championship last season, and he was at his best when the stakes were highest. From his guard position, Toulitatos scored a whopping 31 points in the Patriots’ 64-51 win over Huffman in the semi-finals at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena in March. He extinguished the Vikings’ last hopes by scoring 11 points in the game’s final two minutes.
That wasn’t all. Toulitatos scored 13 points and bagged six rebounds to spark his team in its 54-51 win over Muscle Shoals in the championship final. He was named Most Valuable Player of the Class 6A Boys Final Four.
For the season, Toulitatos averaged 15 points per game with three rebounds and two assists while pacing Homewood to a 30-6 record, climaxed by the school’s first-ever boys state crown in basketball. He was also named MVP of the Class 6A Regionals and the Steel City Tournament during the regular season. He shot an impressive 38 percent from the three-point arc.
His best overall game may have been a 34-point effort in his team’s 76-70 win over Madison Academy in the semi-finals of the Steel City Tournament.
Toulitatos said teamwork was the key to Homewood’s epic title run.
“We had a really close group with nine seniors who provided great leadership,” he said. “We were almost like brothers. If something went wrong, we didn’t get mad with one another, we just worked to get things right. Any successful team is going to be that way.”
Maybe so, but Toulitatos’ uncanny ability to take control of a big game may have been the single biggest factor in his team’s meteoric rise, and his on-and-off-the-court leadership make him the choice as the 2015-2016 Over the Mountain Boy Athlete of the Year. Mountain Brook distance runner Frances Patrick was named Over the Mountain Girl Athlete of the Year.
Homewood basketball coach Tim Shepler said Toulitatos was the right player at the right time for the Patriots.
“When our season started, we thought that Luke would need to play a bigger role in order for us to have a great year,” Shepler said. “As it turned out, he did just that. In fact, in our biggest games, Luke was at his best. The bigger and better the competition was, the better Luke was at rising to the occasion and getting the job done for us.”
Toulitatos isn’t resting on his laurels during the summer months. He’s playing AAU basketball and was selected to play in the North-South All-Star game at Alabama State University in a few weeks. And he eagerly anticipates the opportunity to lead the Patriots to a possible second consecutive state title in 2016-2017.
“It’s always tough to repeat as champion, particularly since we lost so many good seniors,” Toulitatos said. “But we’ve got a lot of young guys who haven’t earned a ring yet so they’re going to be hungry. As a senior, it’ll be my responsibility to be a leader. It’s a challenge I welcome.”
Toulitatos said being named Over the Mountain Boy Athlete of the Year was a special honor.
“It means a lot when I stop to think how many great athletes there are in this area,” he said. “That’s true not only in basketball but also in the other sports. But there’s really no such thing as an individual award in team athletics. Any honor I receive also belongs to my teammates and coaches.”
When he’s not playing basketball this summer, Toulitatos is spending time working with children. He and a group of friends are offering services such as babysitting and birthday parties.
“It’s a lot of fun and definitely something different,” he said. “I guess we could even be clowns (for birthday parties) if the parents asked. It’s an interesting way to spend the summer.”
Luke Toulitatos may wind up playing a clown during the summer months, but he didn’t give his opponents any reasons to smile on the basketball court.