JH boys fill some familiar shoes
In a very literal sense, this year’s Jackson Heights boys basketball team is the “little brother” to last year’s squad after the team saw five senior starters graduate last spring.
Four of those starters from last year (Cole Olberding, Preston Richter, Trevin Jacobsen and Cameron Thomas) have younger brothers who currently make up the nucleus of the 2014-2015 team, including starters Zane Richter and Cole Olberding and reserve players Westin Jacobsen and Mason Thomas.
Those four aren’t the only ones with family ties, though, as several players on the current roster have brothers or relatives who have come through the JHHS basketball program.
Stepping out of their shadows, this year’s group has soared to new heights as the Cobras are heading back to the state basketball tournament for the first time since 2007 and the players credit their siblings for helping push them to this point.
“Having older brothers on the team really made us more competitive. Throughout our years, we never played varsity, so always having them to look up to helped us a lot and made us as good as we are now,” Richter said.
“Honestly, just wanting to beat them and wanting to be better than them pushed us to it really,” Olberding added.
All five starters (Richter, Olberding, Korby Strube, Lane Slocum and Seth Holliday) admitted that helped get them ready for this season. Some played with those departed players in MAYB basketball, while Strube was one of the few to see court time with the older brothers on last year’s team.
Playing with the younger siblings this year has been a familiar feeling, Strube said, but none of them could have predicted they would reach these levels of success, claiming a share of a Northeast Kansas League title along with a sub-state championship.
“To be honest, I didn’t think we were going to be this good after, obviously, losing the five seniors,” Richter admitted. “Through the season, we kept getting more and more confidence, but I doubt anybody thought we’d be going to state.”
Richter himself has been quite the revelation for the Cobras. While he was one of three players returning with significant varsity experience (along with Strube and Slocum), his leap forward this season took even him by surprise.
After averaging 8.5 points in 11 minutes per game last season, Richter has had a breakthrough season in his first year starting and is averaging nearly 28 points while barely coming off the floor for the Cobras.
“The consistency is what’s been amazing. It’s one thing to average 28 points a game, but to have your low game of the year be 18 is just incredible. That’s the only word to describe it,” Heights coach Chris Brown said. “At the end of the day, he’s put the ball in the basket without having an off night every single game.”
In essence, as Richter blossomed so, too, did the rest of the team. To keep with the familial theme, Richter seemed to put himself in the “big brother” role among this group and his example made the rest of the Cobras more comfortable in what they could do.
“I thought when Zane dropped 40 that helped out the rest of us. We didn’t have to work so hard to score. We could focus more on defensive stances and rebounding,” Slocum said. “It’s just kind of a relief of pressure whenever Zane has another 40.”
“I feel like we’re just comfortable with each other. We know what we’re going to do. We know each other’s habits. We know each other’s roles and we respect them,” Strube added.
That wasn’t always the case, with the Cobras facing so many unknowns at the start of the season. Along with five new starters, the team had a new head coach going into the season as well. While there might have been some bumpy patches early, new coach Brown noted the team has made a lot of strides towards becoming a cohesive unit on both ends of the floor.
If there was one particular moment that solidified the bonds of this team and strengthened them as a basketball family, it was likely the midseason tournament in Seneca where Jackson Heights took second and toppled host Nemaha Central, ranked number seven in Class 3A in the final KBCA rankings, in the process.
“That’s the point where we talked about how we’re not going to play very many teams better than Nemaha Central, even if we advance to the state tournament,” Brown said. “When we won that game, I knew we had a chance to win any game we played the rest of the way.”
“That’s when we were like, ‘we’ve got a chance to go somewhere, do something special,’” Richter added.
What Jackson Heights has done is keep up the nearly clockwork pattern that has seen the boys team qualify for the state tournament almost every 10 years. One of those teams, the 1984-85 squad, was even recognized during a ceremony at a home game this season and featured two parents (Pat Richter and Dennis Holliday) of current team members (Richter and Lane Holliday).
This team knows competing at state won’t be easy as every team left is good and the Cobras will have to be at their best every game to have a chance to play through the weekend.
With last Thursday’s sub-state semifinal being a jumping off point for the championship game on Saturday, though, Brown is hoping the title game gives the team a similar boost heading into first round action against Central Plains today and that the team can keep the momentum rolling.
No matter what happens at the state tournament, though, Jackson Heights’ contingent of younger brothers has shined, getting their chance this season, and have left some big shoes to fill themselves.