ELKO — For years as a young boy, Nathan Klekas would sit in the stands at Centennial Gym watching his dad coach the Elko High boys basketball team and then watch three older brothers shine for the Tribe.
As he got a little older, he would still be in the stands with his friends, and they were all anxious for the day when it would be their turn to run through the tunnel of fans as the drums pounded.
For the last two years, it has been his turn, and the sophomore has taken full advantage of the opportunity.
“I like everything about basketball,” Klekas said. “I like how it’s so competitive. It’s a fast sport where you have to compete on every play.”
One thing the Tribe could count on the last two seasons is Klekas competing on every play.
Last year, it was a tough call for the Elko Daily Free Press’ All-Area MVP between the then freshman, who led his team to a state runner-up finish, and a senior that took his squad to a state championship. The senior, West Wendover’s Jesus Limon, took the honor, but Klekas came back and had another impressive season, which made this year’s selection a slam dunk as Elko’s Nathan Klekas earns the top spot on the sports department’s All-Area Boys Basketball Team.
“He is a really competitive kid and hates to lose,” said Elko coach Chris Klekas, who is Nathan’s father as well. “There were five or six games where he really stepped up in the fourth quarter and just said ‘we’re not going to lose.’ He knows when he has to do it.”
He led the Tribe in scoring (14.3 points per game) and rebounding (8.9), and third in assists (2.4), steals (2.0) and blocks (0.5). Nathan Klekas also tallied 14 double-doubles this season. The numbers, however, are just one part of his story. Klekas and his teammates cruised through the Ruby Mountain League and Northern I-A play unbeaten as they came within a couple of baskets of knocking off Clark in the state semifinals. A game where Klekas scored 22 points as he tried to will the Tribe back into the state title game.
Not too shabby for a player who just turned 16 last week.
Coach Klekas said his son’s greatest area of growth the past two seasons is his leadership.
“He does all the things you need from a team player,” the veteran coach said. “He’s a great defender, rebounder and makes sure his teammates are involved, but he really hates to lose and will do what it takes to win.”
Basketball, of course, courses through the blood in the Klekas family, and Nathan also played in an AAU team of local boys that have enjoyed the high school experience with him the last two years. Along with Klekas, Brandon Jenkins, Tim Meo, Marshall Dumas and Cody Nielsen played competitive basketball together for several years prior to high school, and it has made the current Indians roster very special.
Klekas said the highlight of his basketball career was not a basket or a win, but a moment.
“The biggest moment for me was in the state title game last year when all five of us (freshmen) were all on the court together,” he said. “I didn’t even realize it until we were inbounding the ball, and I looked up to see who was guarding who and there was Brandon, Tim, Marshall and Cody. It was just like AAU days. That was really cool.”
Of course, Klekas and his teammates did not get to this point on talent alone.
In addition to years spent traveling on teams throughout the Western United States, the summer months are spent at camps and in the weight room. Klekas, who takes only a couple of days off after the season, expects to start his offseason routine pretty quickly.
“You always have to be practicing and getting better,” Klekas said. “You have to put in the time in the offseason. You can’t wait just until the season starts. The offseason is where you get better. You can’t take days off if you want to get better.”
Klekas said he wants to improve his shooting and ball handling this offseason. He will also hit the weight room as he tries to get stronger and quicker. During the offseason, Klekas plays on a traveling squad out of Utah as well.
While basketball is a priority, it is not the sole focus of Klekas’ life.
In addition to basketball, he plays on the football team and had a successful season on the junior varsity team this past fall. He said he enjoys the sport a lot and looks forward to the start of next season. Outside of sports, Klekas is a typical teenager in many ways. He likes to hang out with friends and play video games. He said one of his favorite things to do is just hang out with his little brothers as well.
Klekas, who continues to be humble despite his individual and team successes, remains one of his toughest critics. He would not describe his first two seasons in high school as anything better than “all right.”
“It was a solid season,” he said of his individual performance this past season. “Not good, but not terrible. As a team, I thought we were really well bonded. We’re always together, and we all got better in the offseason. I’m really excited for next season because we’ll have everyone back except Tyler (Brown).”
So what does it take for it to be a “good” season in Klekas’ mind?
“We have to win three championships,” he said. “We need to win our league, win our regional and win state. We won two out of three so it was all right.”
The last two years have been two of the best in the 104-year history of Elko High School boys basketball history. In addition to back-to-back state semifinal appearances, the Indians have compiled a 45-11 mark in that span. The last time the program has accomplished those marks was the 1994-85 and 1985-86 seasons.