Jesse Shea was a three-year starter at Portland (Tenn.), but now at Columbus East he’s coming off the bench.
It’s not that coach Brent Chitty sees his sixth through 10th players as bench players, though. For the Olympians, it’s kind of like a second starting five.
“We’re just another five,” said senior Dakota Thompson, the vocal leader of the second unit. “We’re another varsity group that’s going to come in and compete and give our starting five a good break, bring energy and come out with defensive intensity.”
While junior Bryce Lienhoop and seniors Zach Martindale, Ridge Harris, Nate Rich and Kyle Taylor are all in at least their second year as starters, the second five has played valuable minutes this season and made big contributions. They’re a big reason the Olympians are 12-6 going into Friday’s regular-season finale against Plainfield.
“(The starters) go as hard as they can for as long as they can, and then it’s up to us to bring the same intensity, the same energy that they have to keep us in the game or take the lead,” said 6-foot-5 sophomore Connor Umphress, the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 7.4 points a game.
“We have to bring a lot of energy,” senior Connor Jensen said. “Sometimes, the first five starts out slow, and it’s our job to come in and bring some fire.”
In some games this season, Chitty has subbed the entire second five for the first unit, then brought the starters back.
“When you take five guys off the floor and put five guys on, you’re developing five guys coming in,” Chitty said. “The other five guys catch their breath, and they’re going to go with even more energy when they come back in.
“When your time comes to go on the floor, you want to go play hard. You’re going to get a chance to rest. You go out there and play hard, and you do it for your team.”
Injuries and illness in the past couple weeks have limited East’s depth, and thus, altered its rotations. Umphress, Jensen and sophomore point guard Nate Nolting all made starts in wins at Jennings County and Franklin when Rich and Taylor were injured and Martindale was sick.
“We’ve definitely had guys step up in positions when we’ve had guys injured and sick,” Shea said. “I feel like either way, the first team comes out or the second team comes out, we’re not losing any potential to win the game at all.”
“Coach Chitty always tells us that everyone is just as important as the next guy,” Nolting said. “We’ve had a few injuries this year, and if someone goes down, someone has to step up in their place.”
The 6-5 Shea averages 4.1 points and ranks third on the team with 3.0 rebounds. The 6-4 Jensen averages 4.5 points, while the 6-4 Thompson adds 3.2 points, and the 5-10 Nolting contributes 1.3 points and 1.4 assists.
But some of their biggest contributions have come on the defensive end.
“We talk very well together and are able to get over help-side,” Thompson said. “The second squad actually has several charges that we’ve been able to rack up this season. It gets us a stop and gives us an opportunity to go down and score.”
“We feel we have 10 guys that can play varsity basketball, and as we’ve evolved this season, now we kind of feel maybe that there’s 12 or 13,” Chitty said. “On any given night, they can give us valuable minutes. Whoever’s hot, hopefully we’ll get them in the game at the right time.”
The emergence of the second five has made for some spirited practice sessions.
“They’re very competitive,” Chitty said. “They all want to win, and they go at each other.”
“We understand that we’re 10 people deep on this varsity squad,” Thompson said. “All us have great talent, and we have to push ourselves to get better, whether it’s the second squad beating the first squad or the first squad beating us. We just have to get out and work hard every day.”