MURRIETA -- Justin Gudger isn't the type to call his own shot.
The Murrieta Valley senior has a way of blending into games, and before the casual observer realizes it, the forward has filled up a stat sheet while leading his team to an important victory.
There have been a lot of stat sheets and a lot of wins in his Nighthawks' career. Last year, he led Murrieta Valley to the Valley's first CIF Southern Section boys basketball championship outside of Hemet and two rounds into the state tournament. Circumstances kept Gudger and his teammates from repeating that feat in 2010-2011, but he still produced 19.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
Unfortunately for Gudger, he broke his ankle in the Nighthawks' first-round victory over Corona, and they were out of the playoffs a round later in a hard-fought loss to Valencia. Still, the 6-foot-4 forward's ability to lead his team merited his selection as The Californian's All-Valley Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
"It was a lot of fun," Gudger said of this season. "It couldn't have been a better group of guys. The seniors and the underclassmen were great. We had a great coaching staff."
Gudger is still on crutches as a result of the break and says the injury is getting less painful. His cast, he said, should be coming off in about "two to three weeks."
Injury or not, his future remains bright.
Gudger burst onto the scene last season after not really playing for the Nighthawks varsity team as a sophomore, when it went 25-2.
"The thing is, he did it as a younger player on the JVs," longtime Murrieta Valley coach Steve Tarabilda said. "But he blossomed late as far as growth, development and strength. When that happened, it just made him a good varsity player."
While his size and ability were strengths on their own, Gudger's basketball knowledge sets him apart. He fit perfectly into the Nighthawks' patient offensive system.
"I think the biggest thing is that he's a great decision-maker," Tarabilda said. "He's good about when to cut, when to shoot, when to pass and reading defenses. Those are things that we talk about and try to coach them, but he does it way beyond (a) coach's expectations. He's totally understanding the game."
Gudger averaged 17 points per game last year. He kept the Nighthawks' offense rolling even when they lost Austin Quick for the playoffs with an injury, and the run culminated with a 50-44 victory over Compton in the Division II-AA championship game at Anaheim's Honda Center.
But the win also helped push Murrieta Valley up in divisions, and though most everyone returned for this season, the order would be significantly taller.
"Obviously, everyone wanted to repeat from last year," Gudger said, "but that was going to be a hard goal with a move up two divisions. So our first goal was to win league, and win it undefeated."
That the Nighthawks did before injuries hampered them in the playoffs.
Off the court, he carries a 4.3 grade-point average as an AP student. He hopes to get accepted to a major university -- perhaps even Stanford; he has also applied to Cal and UCLA -- and then try to walk on to play for the basketball team.
"He doesn't want to just go somewhere to play basketball," Tarabilda said. "He wants to go somewhere that could academically help him."
Makes sense. After helping to put Murrieta Valley back on the basketball map, he'll take some help now.
Contact sports editor Landon Negri at 951-676-4315, ext. 2632.