Big Walnut Roundup: Boys basketball team trying to find 'identity'

Scott Gerfen
ThisWeek
Jordan Walters drives to the basket during the Big Walnut girls basketball team's 46-28 loss at Worthington Kilbourne on Dec. 22. The Golden Eagles have been led by senior Abby Brown, who was averaging 21.3 points through six games.

The circumstances aren’t unique for the Big Walnut boys basketball team.

Like many winter sports programs, the Golden Eagles have seen games postponed and practice time cut short because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The time away from the court has left coach Brett Bartlett with little time to prepare for what’s expected to be a difficult OCC-Capital Division schedule.

A positive COVID-19 test within the program halted games and practices from Dec. 8-22.  

“The biggest challenge has been the lack of consecutive practices recently with when our quarantine ended and the holidays,” Bartlett said. “We have several new players playing their first season of varsity, and it has been a challenge to establish a solid rotation and create an identity.”

Not only that, senior guard Jared Kreager, who averaged a team-high 11.8 points last season and was second-team all-league, has been rehabbing an injury. He might return by the end of the month, Bartlett said.

Big Walnut was 3-1 after opening the league schedule with a 57-38 win Jan. 5 at Westerville North.

“I think we are nowhere near our ceiling as a team,” Bartlett said. “We may struggle here early on until we get Jared back, but I like the potential of our team once we get healthy and develop some continuity with practices and games.”

The Golden Eagles suffered their first defeat against visiting Licking Heights, 67-58 on Dec. 28. Jagger Barnett led Big Walnut with 14 points while Ryan Tripp and Owen Wilhelm each added 12.

The Hornets outscored the Golden Eagles 21-13 in the fourth quarter, when they went 9-for-11 from the free-throw line.

“The season has been both a mental and physical challenge for us,” Barnett said. “We’re grateful to be playing, but it’s definitely difficult only playing three games to start the season when in a normal year, we’d have 10 games in by now.”

Barnett has made the best of the situation, averaging a team-best 16 points through three games, followed by Tripp (12.7) and Caleb Conard (10).

Barnett has moved into the point-guard role in Kreager’s absence.

“Jagger is certainly out of position, but his experiences on the football field as a starting quarterback have helped him transition from a shooting guard to point guard,” Bartlett said. “He has a ‘score first’ mentality, and we are asking him to run the show and be more of a distributor and get us into our offense.”

Barnett enjoys the new role.

“Everything falls back on you, so it’s a lot like quarterbacking,” he said. “You’re doing everything from calling out plays to pointing out matchups and you have the (ball) in your hands at all times. … I’m glad I have that quarterback mentality to fall back on.”

Tripp, a first-year varsity starter, was 7-for-9 from 3-point range through three contests.

“He has been a pleasant surprise for us this year, especially offensively,” Bartlett said. “He competes every possession and we are excited about his future.”

Brown continues hot 

start for girls team

Abby Brown of the girls basketball team was averaging 21.3 points entering a Jan. 5 OCC-Capital contest against North.

The senior scored a career-high 33 points in a 70-14 win over Franklin Heights on Dec. 18.

Big Walnut was 5-2 overall and 2-2 in the league after losing to the Warriors 50-39.

Worthington Kilbourne held the Golden Eagles’ fast-paced offense in check during a 46-28 win Dec. 22.

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