To listen to Galena High School boys basketball coach Tom Maurer, senior Mike Atkinson doesn't sound like a blue chip player. Not at first, anyway.
"He's not a quick player, he doesn't have good feet, he can't dunk," Maurer said. "What he does do is play intelligently, he has great knowledge of the game, and he plays with emotion. He always comes off the court three pounds lighter than when he goes on it."
What Atkinson did this season was help the Grizzlies compile a 20-12 record and advance to the Northern 4A zone tournament championship game for the fourth straight year. His performance was good enough to earn the Nevada Appeal's Carson Country Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Atkinson, a 6-foot-4 post player, was voted to the Northern 4A all-conference and Division I first-team lists during a season in which he led the Grizzlies in rebounding and was second in scoring with a 12.1 point average.
Atkinson, the Grizzlies' team captain, didn't need to score to contribute for the Grizzlies.
"He was the guy who had to defend the big guys," Maurer said. "He was the guy who took (Carson's 6-9 Lee) Biddlecome, he took (Elko's 6-9) Sean Paul, he had to guard the big guys when we went down to Texas and to Reebok (in Las Vegas)."
Atkinson's defense helped Galena preserve its 35-34 win over Reno in the Northern 4A zone semifinals, when he blocked a shot by David Wood shortly before the final buzzer. Atkinson not only made the play, he called it during a time-out when Maurer set the defense.
"I was going to go zone, but Mike asked for an adjustment. He thought we'd do a better job in man and he asked to take Wood," Maurer said. "Mike understands the game so well and I respected his knowledge enough to change up."
Wood beat Atkinson on the perimeter, but the Grizzly recovered and blocked the layup attempt off the glass.
Atkinson was also a key playmaker in Galena's offensive scheme - averaging 3.1 assists per game.
"He's one of the best passers from the high post I've ever coached," Maurer went on.
Even though he played in the post, Atkinson is more of a wing player.
"Mike would have loved to play at a 3 (or wing position). That's where he will play in college, and Mike wants to play D1 eventually," Maurer said. "But he accepted the 5-man role inside because that's where we needed him. What he did was sacrifice himself in order to help the team win."
Atkinson was the team's 110-percent Award recipient, traditionally given to the player who exhibits the best work ethic at practice.
"Mike is just a beautiful blue-collar player," Maurer said. "It doesn't get any dirtier than that."