Hoops-first Wildcats now seek edge

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Jasper’s Tyler Begle dribbled around Evansville Memorial’s Adam Eberhard during  the Wildcats’ game Dec. 13. Dissimilar to the Jasper program in past years, Begle represents a group of players whose primary sport is basketball. The familiarity with the game has allowed for the Cats to push the tempo a bit more and has given players more liberty in their shot selection.

Herald Sports Writer

The practices. Ugh. The practices.

Tyler Begle and Alex Allen remember those bruising episodes against Jasper’s varsity squad last season with some fondness, lingering soreness and maybe even the occasional nightmare of Devon Traylor wreaking physical havoc on their meek junior-varsity frames.

Allen remembers one practice when Wildcat coach John Goebel called out his varsity team for something he didn’t find satisfactory. Pretty soon, “they started pushing us all around and probably everyone ended up on the floor,” Allen said.


The bumps and bruises were commonplace.

“You set screens and you’d just get pummeled down to the floor. Their size was so much bigger than us,” Begle recalled. “We competed with them, but it wasn’t basketball really. It was really tough.”

And worthwhile, in a sense.

This year’s Jasper team, like any squad from year to year, Goebel pointed out, has a new cast of characters, a different face, a different way of going about doing things. And while several key cogs of last year’s squad had identities primarily linked to other sports — Traylor and Cole Sermersheim with football, Nick Gobert and Mark Giesler with baseball — Goebel’s varsity group this year features a cast more inherent to hoops than he’s had in a while.

“Every team has their own personality, and their own strengths and weaknesses,” Goebel explained. “Last year’s team, I understood that offensively, they were a little more limited, but they were going to be competitive. They were going to have to focus on defensive rebounding and being physical, and they bought into it, and that’s why they were able to be successful. This year’s team, we have a few more offensive weapons, but we’re probably not as tuned into the idea of ”˜You’re going to have to get in the trenches and do the dirty work to be successful.’”


Begle, a junior, Allen, a sophomore, and freshman point guard T.D. Nottingham represent the evolved player-type that has afforded Goebel’s squad a bit more liberty this season in terms of accepted shooting range and offensive tempo.

Through seven games this season, the Wildcats are hoisting a tick less than 50 shots a game, almost 12 shots more than last year at this point, and are averaging 14 more points each contest (61 ppg) than they were averaging through seven games last winter.

Much could be attributed to the already-refined condition of players at the beginning of the season. Apart from his commitments to the Jasper tennis team, Allen spent the offseason playing in the Evansville Basketball Academy league on Monday nights, where he faced talent from the Pocket City area as well as squads from Kentucky and Illinois. Begle and Nottingham both played in a league at Gibson Southern this fall, while Begle and his dad, Rick, also shot around at Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium on Sundays and Nottingham spent the past three summers competing with Hoosier Express, an AAU team based in Bloomington.

On the contrary, kids who play football usually have about a week of preseason before the season kicks off. And compounding that, none of the Wildcats’ top 10 scorers from last year played AAU ball.

The offseason reps can be huge, Allen said. Whereas many players walk into preseason training having not hoisted a shot in a couple months, being able to maintain your feel gives a player a welcomed head start.

“It helps because right when you start with basketball, you can’t just pick up a ball and be good at dribbling and shooting,” Allen said. “So you already have a little groove going before you start the season off.”

However, maintaining that feel through an entire offseason can be a trying endeavor. For Nottingham, all it takes is three or four summer days without balling before his stroke feels totally off-kilter.

“The first day you come back, it feels really awkward,” Nottingham said.

The basketball talent and technique are there. Now comes rediscovering the toughness typified by last year’s group, which Begle called “the biggest competitors Jasper basketball has ever seen.”

Things are getting better, the players and coach feel. Nottingham, Allen and Begle all pointed to the third quarter of last Friday’s overtime with over Vincennes Lincoln, in which the priority shifted from pumping out long-range attempts to penetrating into the paint, and Jasper outscored Vincennes Lincoln 20-5. Jasper attempted a season-low six 3-point tries in the game, though it had averaged 12.3 shots from beyond the arc per game in the six contests prior. And while there’s still been an irksome foul shot disparity between Jasper and its opponents (166-89), Goebel said he’s seen more willingness from his players the past two games to drive inside.

Hoops savvy combined with football force.

As for seeing an increase in strictly basketball players — those who consume hoops and only hoops on a year-round basis — Goebel isn’t exactly sold on the idea, regardless of what benefit it might have on the program. In his eyes, a kid’s high-school years should be spent participating in as many activities as possible. And the reality is, very few players will go on to compete at the college level. So why devote countless hours to just one pursuit?

“You only go through high school once. Most of these kids are never going to play in college,” Goebel said. “So to give up at a young age on some of those other sports you were playing to focus on just one, hoping that small percentage chance that you’re going to get a Division I scholarship, I just think it’s a big mistake.”

Contact Joe Jasinski

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