It already has happened and certainly will happen again over the course of a long season.
Kobe Long-Weber has looked and waited for direction from a veteran. Then, the Newark junior guard realizes he is that guy.
“I didn’t really have to do as much,” Long-Weber said. “I just had to play defense and knock down jumpers. Now this year, it’s completely different. I have to talk more. I have to be a leader. I have to keep my head up when we are down, so everyone else keeps their head up.”
Newark won a Division I district championship a season ago, but all five starters graduated. While Dayton Dunbar stayed a step ahead of Newark during Friday’s season opener, it was easy to look to those former Wildcats for help, especially with four of them sitting in the Jimmy Allen Gymnasium bleachers, but this season’s team must find its own identity.
The Wildcats are ready to meet the challenge head on despite growing pains that already are apparent. Junior transfer B.J. Duling and freshman KeShawn Heard each were in Friday’s starting lineup and only had an offseason to mesh with their new teammates.
“We have to all start working together and playing as a team more,” senior guard Evan Thomas said. “It just showed we have to play harder because we have a younger team.”
Of the three seniors, only Thomas is expected to see significant playing time, leaving more of the burden on Long-Weber and classmates Justin Carter and Hunter Dennison.
A season ago, Long-Weber’s seven first-half points against Dunbar might have ignited the offense. Instead, he was a marked man in the second half and was held scoreless. Carter played with reckless abandon as a sophomore, and he always had a senior nearby to provide a steady hand when needed. In the first half against Dunbar, he appeared to be attempting to play too fast before settling down in the second.
“They have to look attack more and score more,” coach Jeff Quackenbush said. “Most of the time when we have good teams, we have a lot of guys around eight to 12 points with maybe one guy that scores a little bit more. We weren’t able to get a lot of wide-open looks (against Dunbar).”
Making the transition more difficult is the schedule. Quackenbush did not give his Wildcats anytime to ease into the season. He had no choice with an Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division schedule that begins Pickerington North, Grove City and Gahanna in a span of eight days.
The good news for Newark is it has talent and time.
Duling showed why he already has given a verbal commitment to Kent State, powering through defenders in the post and running the floor before flying through the air for a pair of dunks. Heard looks like a carbon copy of Duling with the exception of the time he needs in the weight room, and Thomas and Dennison do a fantastic job of setting up their teammates with an array of ball-handling moves and quick passing.
Quackenbush did not expect his team to be perfect Friday. He simply expects the Wildcats to be better this week and at their best a couple months from now.
“I don’t think any team forms their identity until about January or February,” Quackenbush said after Friday’s loss. “That is when you put all of the pieces together. It’s a long process. They are going to come in tomorrow, watch film and will learn from it.”
Snyder is a sports writer for The Advocate. Tell him what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.