SENECA – Three-point and free-throw shooting percentage are the only major statistical categories in which Seneca senior Conlan Callahan led the area during the 2013-14 prep boys basketball season.
Calling Callahan a shooter, however, might be viewed as an insult to his all-around game. He led the area’s only regional champion in assists and steals and was its second-leading rebounder. Seneca coach Russell Witte calls Callahan an “excellent defender.”
Callahan’s well-rounded, fundamentally sound game is the reason he is the 2014 Morris Daily Herald Boys Basketball Player of the Year. And it is the product of a lifetime around the game of basketball.
‘A family thing’
Brennan Callahan, the oldest of Conlan’s six living siblings, was a year away from joining the Fighting Irish program when Conlan was born in 1995. Before long, he was attending his siblings’ games regularly with parents Ed and Karen. A 10-year-old Conlan was a fixture on the court during warm-ups with the 2005-06 Irish, who featured his brothers Garrett and Griffan and won the Class A state championship.
Conlan had to watch, mostly, when he attended his siblings’ games. At home, it was a different story. The youngest Callahan by seven years, Conlan joined his siblings for pickup games in the driveway – at least until they had all left for college.
“All the days in the driveway were pretty rough, I’d say,” Callahan said. “I’ll never forget ’em ’cause I was having a blast, but they wouldn’t take it easy on me. If I played, it was gonna be their way. It was gonna be physical. I would get pushed around. I cried a couple times when I first started playing with ’em. They pushed me really hard.
“It was a family thing, I guess. When they started leaving, it got to where it would just be me going out to shoot. I would think, man, I miss getting pushed around.”
By the time Callahan was in third grade, he was playing organized basketball himself with the Marseilles Bison, a youth team coached by Jim Nugent. His teams included several players with whom he would later play prep basketball, including future teammates Peyton Schrag and Alex Bott and future Ottawa standout John Carroll.
Before high school, Callahan said, he was never much of a scorer. He remembers himself as more of a pass-first point guard, although he did pour in a team-high 14 points for Seneca Grade School in its one-and-done showing at the 2009 IESA 7-2A state tournament.
When Callahan was a freshman, he still was content to let his teammates do much of the shooting. He was promoted to the varsity that season, which was Witte’s second as Seneca’s head coach.
“It was a numbers situation. Some kids who had been in the program had decided not to play, and Conlan was next on the list,” Witte said. “We knew how good he could be. It was a matter of, ‘Was he ready for that call-up?’ ”
Callahan played well enough to merit a third-team All-Area selection by the Morris Daily Herald in 2011, though he is quick to admit that he was a much less capable player than now. Both he and the Irish showed steady improvement throughout his career, with the team regressing slightly its final two seasons. Seneca was 10-20 the year before he arrived, 14-15 in 2010-11, 18-12 in 2011-12, 25-5 in 2012-13 and 24-6 in 2013-14.
The Irish won regionals in each of those final two seasons, though both ended in the sectional semifinal round of the Class 2A state series and at the hands of the same opponent, Newman Central Catholic of Sterling. Callahan was held to a combined six points in the two games, Although Newman coach Ray Sharp admitted stopping him was the Comets’ top priority at Bureau Valley in 2014.
“I’m not mad at the draw we got. If you wanna be the best, you gotta beat the best,” Callahan said. “The opportunity was there for us. We just didn’t take care of business. We played hard against Sterling Newman twice and came up short twice. They’re one of the best teams, and it was great to experience that level of competition and to get to see where we were at.”
Legacy of his own
In many programs, and in many families, Callahan’s final two seasons – with a 49-11 record, two Interstate Eight Conference titles and two regional crowns – might rank as historically great. At Seneca, where his brother Garrett went out with a state title, a third-place state finish and a grand total of two losses in his final two seasons, Conlan’s may not be remembered as more than two decent years.
Callahan entered high school well aware of what his siblings had accomplished before him.
“I wouldn’t call it pressure. It never hit me as pressure,” he said. “It always hit me as something exciting that my brothers did, and I had to strive to try and top them. It made me want to be able to have a say whenever the conversation would come up. I’d think, ‘What if I could top ‘em?’ I would never think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m never gonna be able to do better than them.’ I was always happy for them and I wanted to be just like them.”
Callahan’s teams may not have won as much as some of his brothers’ did, but they won consistently, which Witte feels is a credit to him and to the rest of the team’s 10 seniors.
“If you stopped Conlan, we had Carter (Gallick). If you stopped him, we had Alex (Bott) and Austin (Applebee),” Witte said. “I can remember a couple of games where teams would face-guard Conlan, and when other guys started hitting shots, it wasn’t always possible to do that.”
“Part of the reason Conlan had as good a year as he did because we had as many good options as we did around him.”
Callahan’s basketball legacy is still being written – or at least he expects that it is. He is not yet committed to become the seventh Callahan sibling to play college basketball.
“I’m still undecided. I definitely wanna play basketball, but I’m not sure where,” he said.