OXFORD — Senior Lucas Juntunen has permanently etched himself into the brief but burgeoning history of sports at Oxford Prep.
After scoring 30 points in a 59-41 victory over Falls Lake back on Jan. 4, Juntunen made history by becoming the first member of the Oxford Prep men’s basketball team to total over 1,000 career points.
Oxford Prep honored Juntunen’s milestone shortly before a game with Roxboro Community on Tuesday evening, when he was able to briefly reflect on his time at the school and how much his family, the coaching staff and his teammates shaped him into the player he is today.
“This is definitely a big accomplishment,” Juntunen said. “I initially had no idea that I even got 1,000 points, but to reach it is a big deal. I’ve put in a lot of hard work and have had plenty of great people to help me get here along the way.”
Juntunen has seen the Oxford Prep men’s basketball team endure many changes, including three different head coaches during his four years as a starter on the varsity team, but has embraced every opportunity to grow as a player through each passing year.
The different styles of Rick Kenner, Leo Brunelli and his current head coach, Eddie Crews, have all given Juntunen knowledge and advice that he has used to better himself in every aspect.
“I’ve seen the growth in my maturity on the court,” Juntunen said. “From my freshman year up until now, I’ve learned to understand the game more and be more of a leader on and off the court with the rest of my guys, while also trying to show the younger guys the right way to do things and how to handle themselves.”
Brunelli, who coached Juntunen for two years until resigning shortly before the 2021-22 season to focus on athletic director duties at Oxford Prep, credited him for holding the team together during two strenuous years, the latter of which saw the team go through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along with his natural scoring ability, Juntunen’s selfless attitude towards basketball is what makes him stand out as a player, Brunelli said, adding that those two traits were essential toward him scoring 1,000 points and elevating the program.
“I’m really proud of Lucas,” Brunelli said. “He understands that it takes a lot of pieces for those types of milestones to be accomplished, but he loves to give credit to his teammates, which is the thing that I’m the proudest about.”
As Juntunen developed more during his sophomore and junior campaigns, Brunelli saw more of those selfless tendencies come out, as he would frequently make an extra pass to put himself and his teammates in a better position to score points.
Brunelli said that a strong summer for Juntunen prepared him to take on the senior leadership role within Oxford Prep, which took on more importance when the program had to adjust quickly to Crews assuming the head coaching duties shortly before the season-opener.
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Juntunen said that all of the challenges have not only allowed him to reach another level in his game, but have enabled everyone on the roster to grow closer together.
“Last year with COVID was a big struggle,” Juntunen said. “Coach Brunelli did a great job with us during a shortened season with so many restrictions. Coming into this year with a coaching change was certainly a shock for myself and my teammates, but we’ve grown a lot and we’re coming together as a team under Coach Crews. All of the adversity has only made us stronger up to this point.”
With his time at Oxford Prep coming to an end in a few months, Juntunen said he is unsure over whether or not he will play at the collegiate level, but is optimistic that he will receive an offer to play somewhere starting in the fall.
Brunelli believes Juntunen will be playing college basketball at this point next year, but he wants Oxford Prep’s first 1,000-point scorer to embark on a successful career path where he can embody the things that made him a special player for four seasons.
“Whatever [Lucas’] wishes are, I hope he gets them to come true,” Brunelli said. “I know he has the ability and skill set to play at the next level, but being a charter member of the 1,000-point club is such a big accomplishment for him. Since he has over half of his senior season left, Lucas can really set the bar high for total points.”
Regardless of whether or not a college basketball opportunity materializes, Juntunen is content with the playing career he has had in high school and considers himself fortunate to be surrounded by a culture and environment that allowed him to be the best version of himself.
From being pushed by his teammates and coaches in practice to getting advice from his father Jon, who coaches the women’s basketball team at Oxford Prep, Juntunen has plenty of fond memories to carry with him as he prepares to close one of the most significant chapters of his life.
“There’s so many people I have to thank from these past four years,” Juntunen said.
“I’ve had the chance to play with some great guys and great coaches, but I also have to shout out one of my point guards in Keenan Coley who is responsible for most of these points. My mom, dad and granddad have all been huge supporters of me and I’m so thankful for everything they’ve done for me.”
Before graduating, Juntunen is determined to put in an extra amount of effort over the next few weeks to help lead the program to an NCHSAA 1A tournament appearance so he can make one final addition to his athletic legacy at Oxford Prep.
Contact Brandon White at email@example.com or by phone at 252-436-2840