Before the season started, Olentangy Liberty High School boys basketball coach Greg Nossaman remembers saying senior Ben Roderick would score 50 points in a game at some point this winter.
During what would become a 51-point performance in an 84-60 victory over Johns Creek (Georgia) on Dec. 29 in the Innisfree Hotels Pensacola Beach Classic in Florida, Nossaman believes Roderick could have scored 60 had he shot just a little bit better from the free-throw line and the perimeter.
That the 6-foot-5 forward is even in such a position might be the most remarkable aspect of his surge considering that on Jan. 31, it will be exactly one year since Roderick tore his left ACL.
The injury occurred during Liberty's 17th game last season, the same night he scored his 1,000th career point and helped the Patriots beat Olentangy 73-66.
An extensive rehab followed, along with having his future put on hold because he couldn't participate in last year's AAU season.
"I never wanted to rush (my return)," Roderick said. "I wanted to take my time. Now I've come back even stronger. (It was hard) just not being on the floor with my brothers. It was hard watching them struggle a little bit, but now that I'm back, I'm really cherishing every moment I have with them."
Roderick was averaging 24.2 points last season when his injury took place and had scored 27 against Olentangy as the Patriots earned their fifth win in six games.
Liberty went on to lose six of its final seven with Roderick on the sidelines and finish 11-13.
After Roderick had surgery in mid-February and spent a month on crutches, he wore a brace for about three months in an effort to strengthen his quad and hamstring.
Although Roderick has offers from a list of Division I schools that includes Akron, Ohio University and Toledo, he didn't commit during the offseason and is hoping his performance this winter continues to open eyes about his health and talent.
Roderick, who had 47 receptions for 644 yards and 15 touchdowns while earning second-team all-district honors in 2017 as the football team enjoyed its second of three consecutive Division I state semifinal runs, was cleared to play football late last season but decided not to with basketball approaching.
He scored 29 points in his return Dec. 1 as Liberty lost to Cincinnati Taft 74-73 in the All-Ohio Prep Showcase at Gahanna and has been held below 20 points just two times this season while averaging 30.2 points.
Liberty is 10-2 overall and holds a two-game lead in the OCC-Buckeye Division at 5-0, ahead of Orange and Westerville South (both 3-2).
On Jan. 11, Olentangy's Sean Marks had 36 points to become his program's second all-time leading scorer with 1,137 points but Roderick scored 31 and senior Nick Nakasian added 17 as Liberty won 64-53.
Roderick, who made 10 of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter, is Liberty's all-time leading scorer with 1,380 points.
The Patriots continue league play Friday, Jan. 18, at Orange then travel to Kettering Fairmont to play Centerville at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, in the Flyin' to the Hoop.
"He just looks a little bit different since we got back to Ohio (after the trip to Florida)," Nossaman said. "He's getting shots in the flow of the offense. They're all having a good time. We're trying to enjoy the journey. It's a special group of seniors."
Nakasian, a Carnegie Mellon commit who averaged 13.5 points last season, is averaging 16.2 this season, including 32 points in a 75-62 victory over Gahanna on Jan. 8.
Sophomore guard Henry Hinkle averages 9.7 points and senior guard Joey Thatcher averages 6.2.
Liberty lost senior guard/forward Mitchell Kershner, a Rochester commit, to a season-ending toe injury during a 71-63 win over Westerville North on Dec. 21. He was averaging nine points as a key member of the rotation.
The Patriots' only other loss after their opener came Dec. 27 to Memphis (Tennessee) Christian Brothers, 75-67 in their first game of the Florida tournament. The Purple Wave went on to lose to Johns Creek 64-63 on Dec. 28 but are 15-5.
Roderick's 51-point performance against Johns Creek came the next day, breaking the single-game program record of 37 that he set once last year and tied Dec. 7 in an 81-66 victory over Orange.
"(The 51-point performance) was an awesome game, but I give all the credit to my teammates," Roderick said. "My shots were starting to fall and we were really getting going. I hit a couple 3s and I really started to drive and get some and-ones, and that really opened it up and got me some transition buckets.
"The game has definitely slowed down. I've watched a lot and my game has definitely matured and I think I've become more of a dominant player than last year, not just with scoring but with rebounding and finding my teammates also."
Healthier hockey team hitting stride
The hockey team could be on its way to landing the No. 1 seed for the Blue Jackets Cup tournament that will be held in early February.
The Patriots were 17-6-1-1 overall and first at 10-2 in the Capital Hockey Conference-Red Division after beating Orange 5-1 on Jan. 11, losing to Dublin Jerome 7-4 on Jan. 12 and defeating Olentangy 3-2 on Jan. 13.
They travel to Kent State to compete in the Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit Tournament from Friday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 20, and then have three league games remaining.
One of the biggest positives going forward is that juniors Aidan King (forward) and Keegan Pullins (defenseman), sophomore forward/defenseman Nik Jozefiak and freshman forward Gage Schlotterbeck all have returned to action after missing time with injury in December.
"We're just trying to get the young guys to step up, play hard and play as a team," senior defenseman Craig Lutwen said. "We've had great goaltending with (Andrew) Vidrick, who's been solid, and (Andy) Keeler, who's stepped up as well. Last year we only had one injury, but this year there's been like five."
Through 22 games, Lutwen was leading the Patriots with 10 goals and 11 assists, sophomore forward Ben Brown had eight goals and five assists, Pullins had five goals and two assists despite missing 11 games, senior defenseman Grant Bertges had four goals and six assists and junior forward Korey Raymond had four goals and 10 assists.
Liberty was second in last week's area coaches poll and sixth in the state poll.
"Our goaltending and our defense are unbelievable right now," coach Kevin Alexander said. "Vidrick, I would argue, is probably as good of a goalie as anybody right now."
Wrestlers out to strong league start
The wrestling team opened OCC-Buckeye action Jan. 10 by beating Orange 50-17 and then defeated Olentangy 50-23 on Jan. 11 to improve to 2-0 in the league.
The Patriots next compete Thursday, Jan. 17, at Westerville South in another league match.
In the opening league victory, Ben Cox (195 pounds), Connor Brady (170), Jayce Fitzpatrick (145), Lucas Uliano (126) and Hunter Ford (113) all won by pin and Carson Kharchla (182) won 18-3.
Then against Olentangy, Cox (195), Kharchla (182) and Nick Rutsky (106) all won by pin and Fitzpatrick (145) won 20-5.
Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 18 -- At Orange. The Patriots beat the Pioneers 81-66 on Dec. 7.
Jan. 19 -- Centerville in Flyin' to the Hoop at Kettering Fairmont
Jan. 22 -- At Hilliard Davidson
*Jan. 18 -- Home vs. Orange. The Patriots beat the Pioneers 57-25 on Dec. 7.
Jan. 22 -- Home vs. Davidson
Jan. 19 -- Central District Preview at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
Jan. 21 -- At Olentangy with Big Walnut, Davidson, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby and Upper Arlington
Jan. 23 -- At Marysville
Jan. 18-20 -- Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit Tournament at Kent State
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 18 -- Dublin Coffman at Dublin Recreation Center
Jan. 19 -- Diving: Columbus School for Girls Invitational
*Jan. 17 -- At Westerville South