Nick A! Brig! and ...
There are two other names in the elaborate sign that, even though recognized by the Jeep faithful, might get overlooked anywhere else.
It's not that seniors Evan DeCamp and Jordan Lower haven't been main players for the last three years at South Webster. It's just that it's hard to share the spotlight with a 6-foot-8-inch force.
And with defensive stopper Brigham Waginger joining the fold, it seemed like the two seniors, along with the fifth starter, junior Josh Campbell, would be pushed further offstage. DeCamp, however, said the chemistry, and winning attitude the team has created, eliminates the idea of anybody coming first.
“It doesn't affect any team members. It doesn't bother us on or off the court,” DeCamp said. “I don't care who gets the glory as long as we win.”
Which is something the Jeeps have done in spades. The past two seasons, South Webster has made it to the regional tournament. A three-peat will be in order if the team beats Whiteoak in the district semifinal on Saturday.
Though many people look at Waginger and Nick Aldridge as the driving force behind the team's success, it has been the trio's role-playing that has helped maintain the consistency of the squad.
The first few days were the toughest for Lower.
Coming off screens, knocking down 3s, it all seems effortless to the guard. So what's a few free throws?
It meant everything in the Jeeps' 62-61 loss at Ironton. With South Webster trailing by one with a few seconds remaining, the final shot went to Lower. He missed, but got fouled in the process. He headed to the line for three shots with a chance to win the game and keep South Webster's record perfect.
He only made the middle free throw.
“I was really disappointed,” he said. “I disappointed myself. I don't like missing free throws. After that game, my confidence went down.”
There was only one thing for a shooter to do.
“I just kept shooting to get my confidence back up. I went to practice and started shooting more free throws everyday. The last few games, I've shot better.”
Maybe he thought too much on the foul shots. Whenever Lower fires from beyond the arc, he said, he tries not to clog his mind with anything. Just catch, aim, fire. The strategy works well, who plays similar to a former Jeep gunner, Kyle Cayton.
“He had a good shot,” Lower said. “I looked up to him and learned by watching him play.”
When Cayton graduated last year, Lower knew it was his turn to be the team's dagger, so he worked on his game, both inside and out. Along with shooting an arsenal of shots over the summer, the 5-foot-9, Lower used plyometrics to get his vertical leap to amazing heights. During warmups, the senior drives to the basket, lifts off and deftly put the ball in the basket.
“I met a few people who asked me if I could dunk,” he said. “They say ‘I'm 6-foot-1 and I can't dunk.' I don't really know what to say.”
Now, as the Jeeps continue another March run, the opportunities to step up and make a big shot become greater. It's music to a shooter's ears.
“I love it. We've been practicing for nine days and I want to play so bad,” Lower said. “I'm looking forward to it.”
The burn marks on DeCamp's right bicep are a constant reminder of the forward's calling. Gritting it out on defense, fighting hard for rebounds, boxing out and letting people know he's there - it's all in a day's work for the enforcer.
“I've been trying to be more aggressive this year,” said DeCamp. “I get in people's faces, but I try to keep the team together.”
Things were magnified for the 6-foot-4 forward early in the season when Aldridge sat out the first five games. Normally, the third scorer on the squad, DeCamp played a more prominent role in the post, trying to fill the inside scoring void. The senior performed amiably, scoring 19 and 20 points in back-to-back games against Portsmouth and Valley.
“When Nick was out, I had to step up and pound the ball inside,” DeCamp said. “I think early, they focused more on Brigham. I don't think they saw me as a dominant scorer. But after a few games, teams started to respect me.”
When Aldridge came back, DeCamp understood his role and gave the reigns back. But with some minor struggles last season, having to fill in for the team's leading scorer gave DeCamp the assurance he needed, even when he was hobbled for a week with a leg injury and sat out a game.
“Those first four games built up my confidence,” he said. “I felt like I could drive to the hole and finish. I felt like I could do my job.”
Looking at the team's statistics, it's evident where the Jeeps scoring comes from. Aldridge and Waginger combine for almost 40 points a night, while the other three starters average eight to 10. Though it seems a little unbalanced, DeCamp said opponents attempting to lockdown either Aldridge or Waginger might have difficulty containing the other starters.
“All five of us can go out there and go for 20 on any night,” he said. “We're all capabale of scoring.”
DeCamp, however, is content doing the dirty work that keeps him the enforcer.
“I understand basketball and know what needs to be done,” he said. “Just doing all the little things.”
Last year, something was missing. Yes, the Jeeps made it back to the regional final, only to lose to top-ranked Africentric. But in that game, a presence was lacking - a presence that drove South Webster to its first final four just year before.
It wasn't scoring, of course, it was more defensive. The team was in need of a pest, a player that would dive and scrap for loose balls with no regard for himself. A player who would look at cuts and bruises like badges of honor. A stopper, like former player Justin Richardson.
Enter Josh Campbell.
It's fitting that the junior has become the defensive-minded player that the team needed, like Richardson. The two have been close friends for some time and, when Campbell was a freshman, he looked up to his senior mentor.
“He was my role model,” Campbell said. “I always wanted to be that key defensive player because the key defensive player will always be out there on the floor.”
The only non-upperclassmen in the starting lineup, Campbell isn't fazed. He started a few games last season for the Jeeps, but does admit that hearing his name announced before games still holds meaning.
“It's a great thing to be starting,” he said. “When I hear my name, I get cold chills sometimes. It's a different feeling when your starting.”
But when he starts, everyone he guards stops, no matter the ability or size. Usually matched up with a team's top scorer, Campbell has embraced the role he has inherited from his friend.
“The coaches always put me on the toughest player and make me try to get the best out of him,” he said.
Case in point, the Ironton game. It was probably Campbell's toughest assignment to date, but it turned out to be his best performance. Locked on to the Fighting Tigers' guard extraordinare Dennis Gagai, the junior hounded the senior all night, keeping him to seven points. Knowing Gagai can effortlessly score 10 points in a quarter, Campbell was proud of his handiwork.
“I don't think he had scored under 10 points in his career,” Campbell said, smiling.
When you do a good job, the scars don't hurt so much, unless you have to sit on the bench.
While being his aggressive self in the Jeeps' first encounter with Wheelersburg this year, Campbell sprained his ankle and had to sit out for almost two weeks. It was more excruciating for the junior not to play than to dive on the hardwood.
“I just sat and iced my ankle and watched the other guys play and practice,” he said. “It killed me.”
With nine days off between district games, Campbell, along with the other starters, are chomping at the bit to get back on the court. The anticipation for the team is building as it moves toward another berth in the regional tournament.
Again, the focus for their opponent, Whiteoak, will be the dynamic duo of Aldridge and Waginger. But as Lower points out - don't take your eyes off the sidekicks.
“It's fine if teams prepare and forget about us. All three of us can do damage. And if you overlook us, it just gives us a chance to step up and win.”
JEFF TAEPKE can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 242.