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North-East rivalry in family blood

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Basketball has always been big in the Littrell family, including, from left, North sophomore Paige, father Jody and senior Nick.
Basketball has always been big in the Littrell family, including, from left, North sophomore Paige, father Jody and senior Nick.

When Jody Littrell graduated from Columbus East in 1986, he was the city’s all-time leading scorer.

Later this week, Littrell’s two children will try to help Columbus North girls and boys basketball teams knock off the school where their father once starred.

Paige Littrell is a sophomore starter on the Class 4A No. 5 Bull Dog girls team that will host the Olympians on Thursday night. Nick Littrell is a senior reserve on the 4A No. 3 North boys team that will visit East on Friday night.

“First of all, I’m very proud of both of them,” Jody said. “They have passion for basketball. They enjoy the game. It’s a game I was fortunate to have some success with, and now they’re having success, as well. There’s nothing I like doing better on Friday and Saturday nights than watching them, cheering them and encouraging them.”

Jody and his wife, Kim, have had plenty to cheer the past two years. Paige helped the girls to a 25-1 record and a sectional title last season, while Nick helped the boys junior varsity team to a 17-1 record and dressed for a varsity squad that went 23-2 and won a sectional.

In the family

Nick Littrell

School: Columbus North

Grade: Senior

Height: 6-foot-7

Position: Forward

Paige Littrell

School: Columbus North

Grade: Sophomore

Height: 5-foot-10

Position: Guard/forward

This year, Paige has moved into a starting role and is averaging 7 points and 3.3 rebounds a game for the 6-1 Bull Dogs.

“(Starting is) different,” Paige said. “I guess I wasn’t expecting it, but as soon as I was told, I was ready to step up. I know that my role on the team is shooting shots, so I’m just making sure that, when I come in on my own, I’m working on that over and over. I’ve worked a lot on shooting, especially on 3-pointers, just having my dad rebound for me shot after shot after shot.”

“She’s playing well right now, playing with a lot of confidence, not only hitting shots but doing some of the other little things that we need done,” North girls coach Pat McKee said. “We’re real pleased with the effort that she’s put forth.”

McKee said Paige, a 5-foot-10 guard-forward, is playing with more aggression this year.

“Sometimes in the past, she was a little passive with some things,” McKee said. “She’s not only aggressive in taking shots but when to go after somebody defensively or go hard for a steal. She is reading the game better, and she also physically has gotten stronger, and I think that’s allowed her to have a bigger impact.”

Overcoming injury

Nick, meanwhile, has been slowed by a foot injury that limits him to three-to-four-minute stretches at a time. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 1.5 points a game for the 4-0 Bull Dogs.

“Over time, two of my bones started to fuse together in a real awkward fashion where it hurts all the time, especially when I play a lot,” Nick said. “It keeps me from practicing 100 percent. I have to take a lot of days off, but I’m still able to play.

“It’s going to be a long season,” he said. “The foot is going to hurt the whole season, and it’s going to be hard to get through it. I kind of know I’m going to be on the sideline the whole time and watching more than playing.”

Nick, who was unable to play tennis for North this fall, thought he might have to give up basketball, as well.

“He’s had a lot of health issues that he’s had to overcome,” said the elder Littrell, who averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds his senior year at East. “He’s been very mature in dealing with those, and he knows when he can and can’t play. He and coach Speer have worked out an arrangement where he tells coach Speer if he can’t practice or play.”

Nick participates in about half of the team’s practice on Mondays and the entire practice on Tuesdays. He then takes Wednesdays and Thursdays off for his foot to heal for the Friday, and in some cases, Saturday games.

“We’re very fortunate to have Nick,” North boys coach Jason Speer said. “His toughness and the things he has to go through with his body to be able to compete at this level is a testament to how great of a young man he is. We’re very patient with Nick, Nick is very patient with his body, and we just try to get the most out of him when we can.

“If Nick did not have a very high basketball IQ, with a lot of the injuries and issues that he has to deal with physically, there’s no way that he could play varsity basketball,” he said. “But his IQ is so high, he’s able to overcompensate for a lot of the injuries that he deals with on a daily basis.”

Switching allegiances

Nick and Paige grew up going to games at East and Butler University, where their father had played collegiately.

“I was an East fan all the way up to my eighth-grade year,” Nick said. “I went to all the East basketball games, didn’t really care for North. My eighth-grade year, a lot of the guys that I’d been playing with since fourth grade on the Columbus Boomers team were going to North, and I didn’t want to leave them.”

Now, Nick and Paige are playing key roles on teams that have high hopes to contend deep into the postseason.

“I want to try to help them as much as I can to get to the state championship,” Nick said. “I’m not going to have one of the five lead roles, but I’m going to help them as much as I can in practice and in games.”

“I want to make it farther than last year,” Paige said. “I want to have a great season. We still have to do it play by play. Every single game counts. You can’t look too far.”

Passing the torch

Jody, after scoring 1,343 points in his high school career, had 899 in his four years at Butler. He ranked in the top five in the nation in 3-pointers and 3-point percentage as a junior, when he went 107-of-210. He ranks second all-time at Butler in 3-point shooting percentage (.455) with 181 made 3-point shots.

After Jody and Kim, also a Butler graduate, settled in Columbus, he passed along his love of the game to his children.

“They both took to it pretty young, probably in the third or fourth grade,” said Jody, who is 6-4. “From the beginning, it was evident that they were both going to be tall, particularly Nick. They played a lot of different sports, and basketball was one they naturally gravitated to.”

Both Nick and Paige also play tennis. While Nick was sidelined with the foot injury this season, Paige was the No. 1 singles player for the North girls in the spring.

“I encouraged them to participate in at least one team sport and one individual sport,” Jody said. “Early on, it seemed like that might be golf for Nick, but he gravitated toward tennis. We did a lot of family vacations where we took our tennis rackets, and I think that’s where they picked it up.”

Paige, who plays tennis left-handed and shoots the basketball right-handed, said she and Nick used to practice against each other.

“A few years ago, before he had all the foot problems, we’d come in the gym and play one-on-one,” Paige said. “He makes me a lot better. Since he’s so much taller, he can post up and do all that.”

Jody said he still tries to play a little basketball with his kids.

“Anymore, it’s more HORSE than it is one-on-one,” Jody said. “They’re a lot better than me now.”

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