From the first time he set foot on Fred Summers Court for a Wilmington High School varsity game, Jarron Cumberland was destined for basketball greatness.
He was a powerfully built freshman that could seemingly do it all with a basketball in his hands — shoot from the perimeter, rebound, pass, defend and, ultimately, score.
Jarron had 16 points against Edgewood in his WHS home debut that night of Dec. 7, 2012. Some 2,350 points points later, his career is still going strong.
Jarron ranks as one of the all-time great scorers in Ohio schoolboy basketball history with 2,383 points. Unofficially, Jarron ranks 16th in state history.
But this hasn’t been an easy journey for Jarron or his family. There’s been plenty of time spent in a gym, listening to the melodic pounding of the ball against the hardwood. There’s been the wear and tear on family vehicles, plenty of gas being pumped into the car on a Friday or Saturday as a weekend long basketball marathon began.
Turns out those weekends were simply stops along the way in a basketball venture that has turned into a career for the Cumberlands. Even after Wilmington, it will continue. Jarron has signed on to play next season for the University of Cincinnati.
First, though, is a stop in Columbus for the Div. I Ohio State Boys Basketball Championship. The Hurricane (27-1) will meet Lima Senior (28-0) in a semifinal round game 5:15 p.m. Friday at Value City Arena on the campus of The Ohio State University.
It’s starts on the family driveway
The journey started in the Cumberlands driveway in Hillsboro in the early 2000s. Scott and Cheryl Cumberland’s son Jarron was going to carry on the Cumberland family tradition of playing basketball. The driveway blacktop would serve as young Jarron’s first court.
“Basketball was always a family thing that we took serious,” Scott said, who led Hillsboro High School to a 20-0 regular season in 1988-89. “Being his dad … I never had my parents, well, they were there but they never took the time out to work with me.
“When Jarron had the potential to play, I always took playing basketball serious and I wanted a kid who could play with anybody.”
To start, that anybody included Cumberland family members who had previously carved storied careers in South Central Ohio League action, the same league where Jarron concluded his high school career.
“Jarron used to play against his uncles, guys older than him, and he’d get teased,” Scott said. “But we took every little aspect of his game, dribbling the basketball, shooting jumpers outside, playing against someone older and tried to make it better.
“He heard stories about me playing or his mom (Cheryl at Wilmington) playing. I was real good but I didn’t have the all-around game. I wanted Jarron to have the whole package.”
So in the Cumberland’s basketball journey, one of the early stops along the way was the basketball “mecca” of Rainsboro, a quaint hamlet located northeast of Rocky Fork Lake in Highland County.
Jarron was a third grader playing against fifth graders. He was averaging around 20 points a game in this tournament, despite being one of the youngest participants.
That’s when the Cumberland adventure came to a fork in the road. Travis O’Conner of Greenfield told Scott and Cheryl Cumberland they needed to get Jarron exposed to AAU basketball.
“We didn’t know anything about AAU,” Cheryl said.
But they packed up the car and headed to Cincinnati for a tryout with the Royals.
“By the time we got back to Hillsboro, we weren’t even 40 minutes on the road, they called and told us he made the team,” Cheryl remembers.
Golf’s just not his game
Jarron is one of those rare athletes who could likely excel at any sport.
Well, except golf. That gets a big chuckle from his family.
“He went golfing with my dad and Jarron texted me,” Cheryl’s quip begins, “ ‘Mom, I’m glad I’m good at basketball because I suck at golf.’ My dad said he laughed so hard watching Jarron try to play golf.”
Baseball and football were different stories, though.
Jarron’s strong-armed exploits on the football field are YouTube highlight material. He was a strong, able-bodied quarterback who had Hurricane fans thinking of Gold Footballs in their future.
“I never put the work into football,” Jarron admits. “But every day I was doing something with basketball.”
Said Scott, “He’s a phenominal football player.” Cheryl added, “A lot of people say he should have gone out for football (in high school), too.”
On the baseball diamond, Jarron was equally adept. After playing in an AAU basketball tournament the summer of his fifth grade year, Jarron returned to Wilmington and was asked by a baseball coach to play in an “all-star” game.
The coach put Jarron on the mound.
“I said to the coach ‘What are you doing? Court House is good. They are taking every pitcher to the wall,’” a then-frustrated Scott recalled saying.
His tune quickly changed.
“His first time up, he’d never practiced, he hit one over the center field wall,” Scott said. “He pitched a 1- or 2-hitter. The coach came up after the game. He said ‘What do you have to say now.’ Nothing.”
But the slow pace of baseball eventually proved to be its undoing for the younger Cumberland.
“Baseball was just too boring, so he gave it up,” Cheryl said.
Mom caught in the middle
The life of a basketball player such as Jarron Cumberland is hardly boring. Well, at least it’s active. Playing AAU basketball — he switched from the Cincinnati Royals to the Cincinnati Knights — Jarron and family were becoming quite familiar with the roadways of our beautiful country.
“We spent a lot of time on the road in the summer,” Scott said. “We put our time and money in gas.”
Said Cheryl, “Starting as a kid in third grade, in AAU, he traveled every year.”
And played hundreds of games.
“I think the only time I got tired of it (traveling) was this year,” Jarron said. “I came back from Georgia, ready to go home, but I had to go right to Chicago. I was tired but I had fun up there.”
Not all Jarron’s games have involved AAU. There were pickup games at the YMCA or a church league game. If there was a game, Jarron was there. Most likely, Scott wouldn’t be far behind.
“In our church league, we might have lost one or two games, and when we were done we’d argue,” Scott said. “Well, you took the most shots. Yea, but you turned the ball over more. Just stuff like that.”
Cheryl was caught in the middle, even moreso when Scott and Jarron went head to head, mono a mono.
“Whoever won the game, we’d come home and brag to mom about who won,” Jarron said.
For the longest time, Scott could hold his own. A prideful man, Scott wasn’t going to back off just because it was his son he was competing against.
“He doesn’t like to lose,” Scott said. “I don’t like to lose. I’m still his biggest critic, because it never stops. Coming from a small town, nobody cares about Jarron Cumberland.”
As Jarron grew in stature and ability, Scott could see his grip on the family crown slipping away.
“In eighth grade he started doing some things,” Scott remembered. “We could bang but it took all his strength.”
Then Jarron’s freshman year came. And so did the smile on Scott’s blushing face.
“I tried to play around with him a couple times and that’s when I knew I was getting old because my ankles broke. Today, I’d still like to take him to the court and whip his butt but I can’t do that. I’m just going to go ahead and tell you that now so we can move on. Quit putting me on the spot.”
A complete player, mentally and physically
Scott’s admission is much the same as the players Jarron has faced over his four years at Wilmington High School.
“I expect myself to be great,” Jarron said. “I just have to put more work in, just keep working on my game … my ball handling, my shooting. I can get better and be a better player.”
That his physical improvement is so readily noticeable should not be a marker to indicate his lack of mental improvement.
“I have worked on that,” Jarron said. “After games, (dad) would tell me don’t whine about a foul. Just get back and make it up the next play. Or if someone’s talking (trash) to you, just walk away and laugh.”
That wasn’t always easy for a bright-eyed freshman with high expectations for himself and his team. Scott and Cheryl knew Jarron’s frustration, for whatever reason, was something that would not go unnoticed by potential suitors.
“His body language, it’s not showing anymore,” Cheryl said. “It’s gotten better.”
“As he was getting recruited, body language was always talked about,” said Scott, who noted his own animation during games is many times enough for all family members. “The best kid can get recruited but if his body language is ugly, it can hurt you. He has changed.”
Scott recalled a situation in seventh grade when Jarron bristled and was in a face-to-face situation with another player. Nothing happened, simply a “competitive” player wanting to stake his claim.
“It was competitiveness,” Scott said. “Some of the things he’d see me do on the court, I wanted him to see how I played. I played tough. I competed. I played to win. I think he grew over the years. He’s become more mature.”
That maturation has led to becoming a more complete player, not just a scorer. His points will get your attention, but over the years he’s made some passes that have drawn plenty of oohs and aahs from the crowd, on both sides of the court.
“When I pass the ball to my teammates, it gives them confidence,” Jarron said. “It brings energy to everybody, so when it brings energy to everybody else, it’s also bringing more energy to me. Then the whole crowd is having fun watching.”
The latest such play came against Princeton at Fairfield High School in the early rounds of the tournament. Jarron grabbed a rebound and found himself on the left side of the floor looking at the Wilmington basket.
In a few ticks of his mental game clock, Jarron surveyed the landscape ahead of him and launched a one-bounce pass toward the opposite basket with all his might. Like a heat-seeking missile, the ball skipped off the court just beyond the midcourt stripe then curved around a Princeton player and right into the hands of Chris Wolary, who put it in for an easy two points. The crowd was stunned.
“I was just reading the defense,” Jarron said as if we all can read defenses that way and then make such a pass to expose that defense. “A guy was running behind Chris Wolary and watching me. Right when he turned his head to look at Chris, I just curved the ball right off the ground. The guy who was by Chris ran to the other side of the court to pick up Cam.”
Earning the responsibility of being the best
Wilmington High School varsity coach Michael Noszka is a demanding task-master. You rest when you’re off the court. You play hard when you’re on the court. The basketball court is something to be respected, not taken for granted.
He gives his teams goals for each game and expects them to reach those goals, regardless of the opponent, regardless of the final score.
That can make for some interesting confrontations. Jarron has grown over the years to appreciate Noszka’s ideals and, ultimately, the goals they all want to reach.
“Jarron would rather score 0 points the rest of the season and win the state championship than score 50 and lose the state championship,” Noszka said. “That’s the type of kid he is. He’s an unselfish kid. We wants desparately to win. People who look as his scoring average, and he is averaging over 30 a game, go look as his other stats, assists, look at his blocks, his steals.”
To reach that goal of being the best, Jarron gives credit to Noszka.
“Coach Noszka makes me a better player,” said Jarron. “He’s a coach that gets on me but we also can have fun. We go at it, we butt heads. He’s a good coach. I really like him.
“Some of the teams we play against now, don’t play as hard as we do. It’s because their coaches don’t make them play hard. We play hard in practice and we compete every day.”
Jarron also credits former teammate Colt Briggs, a burly WHS football player who was a solid basketball player with a team-first mentality.
“Actually, my freshman year, Colt Briggs was a leader for us,” Jarron said. “When I didn’t know what I was doing, he would tell me what to do. Actually, he made me a better player. He was one of the guys who looked to pass before scoring. He was always wanting to win and that’s something I liked about him.”
Noszka and Briggs and Jarron’s upbringing have made him the player he is today. The Hurricane has an 85-12 record in game Jarron’s has donned the orange and black.
“As his head coach, from here on out, I expect him to be the best offensive player, the best defensive player and the best player in every phase of the game … from here on out and I told him that,” Noszka said. “He has earned that responsibility.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports.