To most basketball players, a postseason award is a humbling honor, and a reflection of a season filled with successes.
For Union High’s Tanner Toolson, The Columbian’s All-Region boys basketball player of the year, it symbolizes so much more.
It’s what hard work looks like, getting countless hours in the gym to hone a craft. It’s what determination looks like, not giving up on the process to be a better player. And it’s what patience looks like, waiting for his time to shine and waiting for his body to catch up with his feet.
Call it a Toolson Transformation.
Toolson saved his best season for last, helping Union go 27-1 and place third at state. The All-Region honor is one of many accolades for the senior that includes a league MVP, player of the year by the state coaches association, and multiple all-state honors.
How he got here didn’t come easily. It’s hard to believe the 6-foot-5 senior who can play positions from point guard to center, if needed, began his prep career at Union as a short, 5-foot-6 point guard on the freshman team with overly sized feet. He was jokingly called, “Little Bambi.”
“I looked like a baby deer out there,” Toolson said. “… I had massive shoes.
“I finally grew into myself.”
And grew in more ways than one. Through hard work, determination and drive, he was an all-leaguer as a first-year varsity player last season. This winter, in his league MVP season, he averaged 23 points, 8.5 rebounds and three assists. With Toolson leading the way, Union’s 27 wins set a school record for victories in a season.
With the success comes accolades. For Toolson, the postseason honors mean so much more because of teammates, coaches and family behind him the entire way.
“It’s a dream come true,” Toolson said. “Growing up, I wasn’t always the best or talented player. But everybody kept pushing me and believing in me. I know I wouldn’t be the player I am without them in my life. I’m super grateful.”
The Titans’ hopes of winning the program’s second state title — and first in Class 4A — were dashed in a state semifinal loss to Central Valley. But what came next is what Toolson didn’t expect, and something he said he’ll never forget.
Not disappointment, not anger, but a feeling of hurt spread among players. That spilled over into the next day’s third-place game when the Titans were flooded with emotions knowing it was their final game together.