Luke Touliatos led Homewood in scoring last season on the way to the program’s first Class 6A basketball championship. Touliatos has fit in well at Homewood, despite transferring in just two years ago.
Luke Touliatos’ first encounter with the Homewood High School boys basketball team was awkward, but the journey has only gotten better since.
Following his freshman year of high school at the Westminster School at Oak Mountain, Touliatos moved to Homewood.
He remembers his first encounter with his new teammates well. During the summer of 2014, Touliatos showed up for his first team practice.
“I was already kind of nervous, and when I walked in, they were all kind of circled up,” Touliatos said. “I walked in decked out to play, and I come over there, and [coach Tim Shepler] introduces me.”
However, Touliatos didn’t get to practice with the team that day. He was sent to the junior varsity gym for the day.
“It was a little awkward,” he said.
He eventually played the season on the varsity level at Homewood, and made more of an impact as the season wore on, particularly at the end of the year.
“He had a couple big shots in the area tournament, so we knew he was going to be a contributor [going forward],” Shepler said.
There was a gaping hole in Touliatos’ overall game that had to be patched before he was able to reach his potential: his ability to defend.
“Luke’s a very talented offensive player,” Shepler said. “On the defensive side, he’s gotten better since he’s been here. He just has a knack for really making plays in games and doing that at clutch times.”
Shepler’s defensive principle of emphasizing “help” defense was a new concept to Touliatos, but learning that was not the main reason he struggled. Once he began to put together a full effort on both sides of the floor, the tables began to turn.
“I could score, but I couldn’t stay on the floor long enough to do a whole lot, because my defense was just not there at all,” Touliatos said.
Heading into last season, the Patriots sat in a great position. With nine seniors and emerging stars in Touliatos and big man Trey Jemison, Homewood was primed for a big season.
“I thought we had a great chance,” Touliatos said. “We lost Malik [Cook]… but we felt like we had a great chance to prove ourselves.”
He was proven right, as he led the Patriots in scoring on the way to the Class 6A state championship, the first under Tim Shepler in 20 years at Homewood and the first in program history. Touliatos scored 14.3 points per game, as well as three rebounds and a pair of assists per contest.
Touliatos has become a serviceable defender, and Shepler said he will have to rebound more this season as the Patriots carve out new roles for players after graduating those nine seniors.
But Shepler wants Touliatos to become more of a leader in his final year at Homewood, following the dearth in that department with the mass exodus of graduates.
“Luke didn’t have to worry so much last year about leading. He just was a scorer and did what he did. A lot of the seniors established the culture and the focus of our team,” Shepler said.
Touliatos and Jemison will be the de facto leaders for Homewood all season, but Shepler said he believes that is a skill to be developed. The best players are not always the best leaders in his mind.
“Being a good player doesn’t mean that someone’s always a good leader,” Shepler said. “We just talked to [Touliatos] about doing things that would help our team kind of develop the experience and maturity to make a run here.”
Touliatos began recognizing the need and showing some of that leadership, speaking up when he notices an issue that requires addressing. In one of the first practices of the fall, he noticed his team not doing a drill at maximum effort.
“Our guys weren’t making the sprints,” he said. “I felt like we were capable, but we just weren’t hustling as a team. I kind of felt this sense where everyone was content with that.”
His message to the team was that the 2017 season is a fresh one, and that none of the benefits that comes from winning a state championship transfer to on-the-court accolades the following season.
“You’ve got to have that mindset to go get your own [ring] this year,” he said.
The Patriots still have talent. Touliatos went so far to say this year’s unit might be more talented than last year’s. But the 2016 Homewood team featured a potent chemistry, something that this team is still working to acquire.
“You’ve got to like each other, and I think we all like each other,” he said. “We got to win a couple close games, maybe, and figure out how to do that. That was one thing last year’s team really knew how to do, was win those close games.”
As far as personal goals, Touliatos aims to be better than he was last year. If he can do that, he hopes the opportunity for a college scholarship will present itself.
“Why not just shoot for better than what you did last year?” he said.