Wibbeler uses smarts in basketballMarch 18, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
HUNTINGBURG — Southridge will showcase a lot of talent in Saturday's Class 2A semi-state game against Parke Heritage. The Raiders (17-10) will trot out star senior Colson Montgomery, who is at 1,941 points and counting in his career. Junior Carter Whitehead (10.9 points per game) and senior Sam Sermersheim (9.8 points per game) can also be viable scoring options, and senior Camden Gasser continues to add on to the single season assists record with 184 helpers on the season.
But basketball is a game of five starters, with five players on the court. Kaleb Wibbeler knows he's not the best offensive player around, but his work ethic and defensive mentality is where he shines as a starter for the regional champion Raiders. Their defense is holding opponents to 45.3 points per game, with Wibbeler's play being a big reason why.
The senior is also one of the top academic students in his class, and the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association named him an honorable mention on its Academic All-State team. He will be on his way to study business management at Indiana University. The way he approaches the game of basketball is the same way he approaches the classroom.
"Academically, I've always tried my hardest to do my best and get the best I can always," Wibbeler said. "And that's the way same with basketball, and any sport, basically, is always try your hardest for the coaches, to do your best."
Academics will always come first for Wibbeler, but basketball is a big part of what he does, too. The most important thing he learned in the classroom that he applies to the basketball court is to always work hard, and it takes "110 percent focus every time," whether excelling in the classroom or guarding well on the court.
Southridge coach Mark Rohrer told the Herald before the season began that he was looking for the team's defensive stopper in the wake of Garrett Voegerl's graduation last year. Rohrer said on Wednesday that Wibbeler was a good defender going into the beginning of the year, but his defensive play early on made him a regular starter, and the third-year Raiders coach sees him being probably one of the best defenders in Southwest Indiana.
"I just thought what he was able to do against team's best guys was too good to not have in that starting five," Rohrer said.
It's not easy having to guard the opposing team's best player game in and game out, but that's Wibbeler's job. There's a lot of pressure that comes with trying to slow down the go-to player of Southridge's opponents, but he handles it well. Wibbeler had to guard South Spencer senior Chase Garrett in the March 6 sectional championship, but Garrett scored two points the whole night.
"He did a spin move a lot, and one time we were coming down the court, fast break, I made him spin right to left, Camden stole it," Wibbeler said. "That was a big part of the game."
"He's not just making opponents' best guys uncomfortable, he's taking them away and changing how teams have to gameplan for us offensively because of how good he is individually on other teams' best players," Rohrer said.
Rohrer noted that Wibbeler plays hard, but having to guard the other team's best player for 24-32 minutes take more than just playing hard. The third-year coach said that it's important to have a high defensive IQ, to anticipate players' moves and see things before they happen. He believes stuff like that has allowed Wibbeler to make the progress he's made as a defender.
There's a trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on the line, and Wibbeler will once again be tasked with a big time assignment on Saturday. The Wolves have three players averaging double figures, according to MaxPreps.com, but leading the way for Parke Heritage with 16.7 points per game is sophomore guard Christian Johnson.
Rohrer touted Johnson's feel for the game. He noted that he's comfortable, plays with a great pace and usually doesn't get sped up, but he knows that Wibbeler is going to do a great job on him.
"He's a big, stocky strong guard, and he's really good at going to the rim and scoring," Wibbeler said. "He's a good shooter, too. I just can't let him get any looks in the lane or shooting."
What Wibbeler likes about this team is how good their chemistry is. These Raiders have been playing together for a long time, both in basketball and in other sports. Wibbeler has also donned his cleats both on the gridiron and the baseball field. And he believes the fact that he's playing with some of his teammates for so long is what makes the chemistry as good as it is.
"Colson's dad (TJ) got us an AAU team in second grade, and we just played every weekend, and it just clicked since then," Wibbeler said.
It's a bond that holds near and dear to Wibbeler — as winning with his teammates is what he loves the most about basketball. At the very most, he has two games left in his hoops career, and it's also those teammates that he'll miss the most about the game.
In order to make more memories with his teammates, Wibbeler will have to help stop a Wolves team that has won 11 in a row. Southridge will get a look at a squad that is averaging 59.7 points per game and is allowing an average of 42.3 points per game. Rohrer sees common ground between the two teams.
"I think we both play at what I would call a moderate speed, and that means that we can push at times offensively, but we can really be patient and slow the pace down as well," Rohrer said. "I think one of the big keys is we'd like to get as many transition points as possible, but when they do get into the half-court, we've got to be disciplined, not make mistakes, because they're one of the better teams that we're going to play this year at taking advantage of mistakes."
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