Madison's Dragas to West Liberty for school, basketball

Nov. 15—MADISON — Tammy Dragas can be easily spotted in the stands of Madison High School basketball games.

Fully supplied with yarn and needle, the mother of Blue Streak standout guard John Peter Dragas uses her hobby of crocheting to calm her nerves while watching her son and his teammates compete on the basketball court.

"When he graduates from high school, I'm going to give him a blanket of all the squares that I made," Tammy said of the Blood-Sweat-Tears blanket she calls the project she plans to complete.

Recently, John Peter completed his quest to play at the next level when the blood, sweat and tears he tirelessly has put into the game of basketball got rewarded with an offer to play basketball at West Liberty University, a NCAA Division II school located outside of Wheeling, West Virgiinia.

Dragas, who enters his senior year already having set the career points record at Madision High School (1,462 points currently), accepted the offer as he signed his letter of intent at a special ceremony on Friday in front of family, friends, coaches, and current teammates in the Madison High School cafeteria.

"It was special for me to have family and friends there, especially my friends," said Dragas, who goes by JP. "Everyone had high hopes for me growing up. They hoped basketball would take me places. They hoped I would be able to achieve my dreams. To have them there to witness it was exciting. We all got to celebrate in it together."

The journey in Dragas' recruitment didn't go exactly as he had envisioned.

The high-scoring guard had hoped to have an arms-length of offers already to sort through, but as of late summer, the lanky 6-foot-1 senior had just a few schools interested as he competed for his TNBA Showcase team on the AAU Circuit.

"The thing I kept telling him was your don't need 15 offers, you just need the one offer that makes sense," his father and Madison Athletic Director John Dragas told his son.

In stepped West Liberty, which liked what it saw out of Dragas this past spring and began recruiting him heavily.

"He [JP] is a combo guard who can do a little bit of everything," West Liberty head coach Ben Howlett said. "He has a knack of scoring the basketball, and he is a very underrated passer. Most importantly, he has a very high ceiling. His best basketball is ahead of him."

According to the coach, Dragas' game fits the high tempo style he seeks.

"His basketball IQ is off the charts," Howlett said. "He plays hard and is a gym rat. Those kind of guys will win a lot of games for you."

Howlett should know about winning games as the coach has done a lot of it in his seven years leading the Hilltopper program.

The coach has a 161-25 overall record at West Liberty, his alma mater, owning a .866 winning percentage, which is the highest among all NCAA coaches (all divisions) in that span.

Howlett's teams have won six straight Mountain East Conference (MEC) regular season championships. The school has qualified for the NCAA Division II tournament 14 straight years, where the coach was an assistant at the school before taking over.

Last season, the Hilltoppers finished 33-4 and finished runner-up in the NCAA Division II Tournament.

From Dragas' viewpoint, the wait for the right fit certainly paid off.

"I think it a blessing," he said. "It was late in the process and I wasn't sure where I was going, what I was doing — should I wait? Then West Liberty comes in out of nowhere and on top of it, they are among the Top 5, Top 3 Division II schools [basketball]."

"It was perfect."

According to Howlett, his staff saw Dragas play this past spring and put the Madison product on their radar.

"We are kind of old-school in that we take our time in recruiting," Howlett said. "It is kind of our MO to find guys who are underrated. We are excited and looking forward to seeing more of what he can do."

Dragas also expressed his excitement of going to a place that has a culture of players who share his love basketball.

"On my visit, we showed up there around 11 am and they pulled me in to the gym and there are four dudes shooting," Dragas said. "We tour the campus and come back, and there are sixdudes in there shooting.

"The coaches then pull me in and start talking to me, and there are two more dudes coming in to shoot. The environment of what they do with the basketball program and these kids there immediately attracted me."

And, the fact that basketball is the No. 1 sport at West Liberty where the Hilltoppers often sell out their home games made the offer even more enticing.

"They draw more fans to their basketball games than their football games," John Dragas said. "The thought of him playing in front of 3,000 people every home game is the kind of experience I wanted him to have."

Dragas credited his two older brothers Alex (22) and Dimitri (20), both who had productive basketball careers of their own, for pushing him at an early age.

Dragas added it was a sigh of relief to get this decision behind him so he and the Blue Streaks get ready for their first year competing in the Chagrin Valley Conference Lake Division.

"It will be a lot easier to focus in this gym now," he said.

As for Tammy, her focus will be on taking her nerves off of each game, gripping that needle tighter during those tense moments.

Asked if the crochet kit will be making the 2 1/2 hour trip next season to West Liberty?

"Absolutely," she said with a smile. "We are proud of him. He has worked hard for this."