By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
Luka Radovic dropped his shoulder into Jason Salrin's chest and tried to bully his way to the rim.
Salrin didn't flinch.
So Radovic faked a move to the inside, drop-stepped to the baseline and tried to lay a scoop shot off the backboard.
Salrin blocked it.
Finally, Radovic caught the ball in the post and turned to shoot a fadeaway jumper.
Salrin altered it.
He won this practice battle between Quincy High School teammates, but there'll be more. For Salrin, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, to continue winning those showdowns, his footwork must improve. His strength and stamina must continue to increase. And he must believe he can be the best defender on the floor.
That's easy to do when playing defense is a source of pride.
"I know I'm a defender and a rebounder," Salrin said. "That's what I'm needed to do. Everyone wants to score, but you have to play your role. Being a presence inside is my role."
As Radovic will attest, Salrin's presence in undeniable.
"You're working against a big defender," said Radovic, a 6-7 junior. "You have to shoot over a shot blocker. That's not easy. Sometimes we get into it in practice, and there's a little back and forth. You get better because of it.
"He makes me work, and we work hard."
The reward for that effort is having a significant role in the Blue Devils' current six-game winning streak.
Salrin leads Quincy in rebounding (6.9 boards per game) and blocked shots (xx) and is coming off his best offensive weekend to date. He scored a career-high 10 points in the 54-51 victory over Galesburg and added four points in the 53-43 victory over Springfield.
He is averaging 3.7 points per game, and any offense he provides is a benefit.
"Defensively, I was all right," Salrin said. "Defensively, you can always get better. As far as post moves, I tried to perfect those during the offseason. They're still not that great, but I've come a long way."
Last year, there were glimpses of what he was capable of doing. That was enough to convince to pour his effort into offseason conditioning.
"Once everything started clicking last year, I became more comfortable with everyone," Salrin said. "I became more comfortable with the game."
That's when he made a critical decision.
"I told myself, ‘I'm going to do everything so I can start,'" Salrin said. "I lifted. I ran. I tried to put on weight."
That's allowed him to take contact and initiate it.
"I like doing it. I like beating up on other people," Salrin said.
He likes the thrill of helping carry on the Quincy tradition even more.
"In the locker room after big games, after we've just won, it's like, ‘I just went out there and did my thing,'" Salrin said. "It feels good."