The first thing you notice about Neuqua Valley’s Sebastian Grimes may be his hair.
He started letting it grow about three years ago, and it extends several inches past his shoulders.
“It’s his signature look,” teammate Nic Lendino said. “Ever since quarantine, he’s just let it grow.”
Grimes’ free-flowing hair is a sight to see when he’s running up and down the court. Usually, that happens only during practices.
The 6-foot-2 senior forward rarely sees any playing time as Lendino’s backup. That’s been the story of his high school career.
“It’s been up and down,” Grimes said. “Freshman year I started (on the freshman team), and then I had an ankle injury at the end, so I didn’t play too much.
“Sophomore year was around the same. I just wasn’t playing as great.”
Even so, Grimes has stuck with the program.
“It’s a tough mental battle, but you’ve got to fight through it,” he said of his limited role. “It comes with every sport.”
But Grimes’ time came Tuesday, when Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton got all of his seniors into the game against Maine East. It was the Wildcats’ senior night.
Although Grimes didn’t play many minutes, he made the most of his opportunity. He had six points on 3-for-3 shooting, two rebounds and a steal as Neuqua Valley eked out a 49-46 victory.
“That’s what happens on senior night,” Sutton said. “We got him in early, and something special happened.”
It happened early in the second quarter as Grimes scored on consecutive possessions, first on a drive and then following a steal at midcourt.
He bobbed and weaved through the Maine East defense as his hair flew and his bench cheered.
“That was great,” Lendino said. “We’ve seen Sebastian work throughout the year. He’s seen minutes here and there but very rarely. But tonight it was great to see him excel. He played very well, particularly on defense, turning it into offense.”
It isn’t surprising that Grimes sees little action playing behind a talented athlete like Lendino, a senior who led the Wildcats (17-7) with 10 points and six rebounds and just committed to play football at Valparaiso. But that can’t take away Grimes’ value to the team.
“He’s someone who plays my position, so it’s especially nice seeing the whole position excel,” Lendino said. “Knowing I can trust someone else behind me to come in and play well, I was super happy to see that.”
So was Sutton, who was determined to get his seniors some playing time.
“If they didn’t start tonight, they started last Saturday, so it’s Part A, Part B of senior night,” Sutton said. “That’s the only game plan we had.”
Grimes’ performance turned out to be key. He was one of the few bright spots offensively for the Wildcats, who shot 18 of 49. Leading scorer Luke Kinkade, a junior guard, scored six points on 1-for-10 shooting.
“He’s a good finisher down low,” Sutton said of Grimes. “And he’s a strong kid.”
One who relished his time to shine.
“It felt a lot better, being able to help them out and not just have to cheer for them,” Grimes said. “It feels good to be a part of it.”
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Wildcats, who are preparing for the stretch run.
“In the beginning, it was a little bit shaky,” Grimes said. “The chemistry wasn’t really there. But after a couple weeks of practice, everything started coming together, and we’ve all started bonding a lot more.”
As for his hair, it’s there for the long run.
“I’m thinking about getting a couple inches off,” Grimes said. “And let it regrow again.”
Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.