When the arena lights are brightest and the rally towels are waving, Wilmington fans know the names on the court.
What about when nobody is watching?
When Wilmington convenes at the Rodger O. Borror Middle School gymnasium for practice, some of the unsung heroes of this state tournament run get their chance to shine.
Behind every good basketball team is a group of younger players that temporarily shed the Hurricane identity.
On any given day, they are the Mason Comets. They might be the Moeller Crusaders. On Thursday and Friday, they were the Centerville Elks.
Members of David Washington’s reserve boys basketball team take the form of whoever the Hurricane will play next. They run scout team offenses so Wilmington’s starters can prepare for what they’ll face.
“They help us out tremendously,” Washington said. “We run scout team with them, so they run the other team’s offense and defense and try to simulate it for the older guys.”
Washington pointed out these kids aren’t just along for the ride to Columbus.
“They’re very dedicated,” Washington said. “They’re at every practice, every meeting with the older kids. Even though they might not get every rep, they make us better.”
About the program
For Mike Noszka, Wilmington head coach, it is all about the program. Every detail in practice and every step in the journey to state has been about the team and the sum of its parts.
That’s why he’s so quick to credit those who are putting in the extra work to make the program better.
Players such as Nathan Barker, Nick Morris, Curtis Gauche, Tony Merritt, Layne Griffith, Montel Jones, Alex Wright, Matt Smith, Mason McIntosh, Willie Morris and Dorian Taylor all might see limited playing time, but their value to Noszka and his program is invaluable.
“They run the scout team,” Noszka said. “You can tell by our preparation that these kids are locked in. They know when they get a chance to go into the game they’ve got to play.”
Noszka praised the scout team’s work preparing the Hurricane for the challenge of facing Mason in the district championship game.
“They ran flex all week, which was an offense we hadn’t seen,” Noszka said. “Playing Centerville, they were like a mirror image. We told our kids, ‘As far as scouting report goes, we’ve got to guard ourselves.’”
With the injury to Alex Miller that may keep him out of the state final four, Noszka said the role of the younger players may change next week.
“The cause just got bigger because of what went down with Alex,” Noszka said. “We’re not making any excuses. Our mentality is ‘Whatever it takes.’ Some of these reserve kids need to step up now and be a big part. They need to carry Alex’s luggage if that were to be the case.”
The challenge of scout team
Matt Smith is one of the players that may see increased playing time with the potential absence of Miller. The sophomore guard has relished the chance to help improve the program.
“It’s been great,” Smith said. “Coach expects great things out of us younger kids. When he puts us in, box out and play our foxhole. It’s been a real pleasure to play and be part of this experience.”
It’s a dual responsibility for Smith and the other scout team players. They must prepare the older players to play while preparing themselves as well.
“It’s very important for me,” Smith said. “I care about the team a lot and put a lot of work in. I want my teammates to be able to trust me. I look forward to stepping up and play to the best of my abilities.”
Alex Wright also stressed the importance of the work they do in practice and what it means on game night.
“We take practice very seriously,” Wright said. “We take scout team very seriously. It’s a very important thing we do in the program – scouting opponents to know what they’re going to do so we know how to stop them.”
Wright said learning new offenses and defenses each week can be quite the challenge.
“It’s pretty challenging every week learning a team’s plays and learning how to run their defenses, how they run their offense and how they run their set plays,” Wright said.
It is also important for the younger players to be ready to step in, especially if Miller is unable to play in Columbus, according to Wright.
“It’s a next-man-up mentality,” Wright said. “That’s how you’ve got to play. If your number is called you’ve got to be ready.”
Both players talked about the excitement of being two wins away from a state championship.
“This is awesome,” Wright said. “This is very exciting. This is something we’ve been working for a long time. We want to get that ring. Do it for the previous players, do it for Alex, do it for ourselves, do it for the community, for the school and everything.”
Washington said not only does the scout team work benefit the older players, but it is also a step in the development process for the younger players.
“They’re working on their IQ and understanding the game of basketball,” Washington said. “We run motion, so we don’t run too many plays. For instance, when we’ve got to put in the flex, they learn what the flex is and how to run it and also how to defend it.”
The run to state has allowed Wilmington to get in extra preparation for the next generation of varsity starters.
“The youngers guys have gotten an extra three weeks of practice. too,” Washington said. “There are not too many sophomores practicing right now. Our kids take advantage of that every day.”
This week, they’ll become Lima Senior, Westerville South and Garfield Heights. If all goes well, they’ll celebrate as Hurricane on Saturday night.
Matt Sexton covers high school sports for the News Journal. Follow him on Twitter @mattsports.