The feeling of Friday night basketball games have become all too familiar to sophomores Nmeso Nnebedum, Steffon Dunigan, DeAndre Worthy, Abigail Roberts and Ebube Okpechukwu. Hard work, dedication and leadership are all qualities that led these second year high school students to become a part of the men and women’s varsity basketball teams, and even were the reason two of the players, Steffon Dunigan and Abigail Roberts, played starting positions.
Nmeso Nnebedum has been playing basketball since he was 13 and on the 7th grade team at Maple Street Middle School. His goal has always been to make varsity at Norrix and with his hard work and determination in the summer, and the help of his coaches developing him into the type of physical and aggressive guard they need, he has accomplished his goal. One of Nnebedum’s biggest struggles was the pace of the game.
“You have to read and react within a split second,” said Nnebedum.
Being one of the youngest on his team, Nnebedum dealt with a lot of constructive criticism, and although it frustrated him sometimes, he knew it was only to make him and his team better, so he kept pushing. Before moving up to varsity, Nnebedum was placed on the junior varsity (JV) team as a freshman. The in-game experience for him on the varsity level was very different for him compared to the lower JV level.
“There are stronger and faster D1 bound guys on you, chest to chest, trying to get that rock from you,” Nnebedum explained.
Steffon Dunigan, Nnebedum’s teammate, was a starter on the men’s varsity team. Dunigan also played on the JV team as a freshman. He feels the game is so much faster playing with varsity rather than the slower JV level.
“I lost my breath quicker and my expectations were way higher,” said Dunigan.
His favorite memory was when they took a 77-74 win over Lansing Waverly on February 28th. The team’s leading scorer was senior guard DJ Swift with 35 points.
“It was the greatest feeling we have had,” Dunigan mentioned.
DeAndre Worthy, another sophomore on the men’s varsity team, as a freshman, played on the men’s freshmen team. The varsity coaches showed interest in him and invited him to play on their summer league team. It didn’t take long for DeAndre to realize that he had to be confident in his ability to play because the crowds were larger and louder. This also meant he had to focus much more so he didn’t get distracted by the loud crowd and cheering. One of DeAndre’s many favorite memories is when he was playing against Kalamazoo Central and blocked multiple shots of University of Michigan’s commit, Isaiah Livers.
The boy’s team struggled with chemistry on the court this season but there’s room for improvement within the next two years for these sophomores.
“The season was a little frustrating. I had to be patient because they were young and inexperienced, but all in all it was a fun experience,” said Swift.
Last year with eight seniors graduating, the women’s basketball coach, Casey Rost-Danzy, knew she had a lot of spots to fill, especially at the power forward position. She was looking for players who could contribute a significant number of minutes on the court, and Abigail Roberts’ and Ebube Okpechukwu’s hard work and great attitudes stood out.
Abigail Roberts was a starter on the women’s varsity team this season which meant she had to adjust quickly and step out of her comfort zone. Roberts, as a freshman, played for the freshman team and was one of the leading scorers and rebounders. Her experience on varsity helped her learn a lot because the whole feel and experience was new to her. From the drills, to learning plays faster and playing against bigger or more experienced girls. Coming from a freshman team directly to varsity, Roberts had to adjust to the pace of the game. She knew her coach expected more from her on a higher level so she always gave it her all.
Her favorite memory is when in the annual Holiday Hoops tournament on December 27th, when they played and beat Benton Harbor, 59-56. She liked the fact that it was a really close game and the enthusiasm of the bench kept the team going. Roberts also enjoyed hanging out with the rest of her teammates and team bonding.
“We just became so close as a team, we became a family,” said Roberts.
Ebube Okpechukwu started playing basketball at the age of 13 in the 7th grade at Maple Street Middle School. As a freshman, she played for the freshman team with Roberts. This year on varsity, she was nervous playing with older girls that were more experienced than her. When given constructive criticism from teammates, she took what they said and tried to apply it when she practiced. She learned that the varsity level was a lot faster and more intense than playing on the freshman level.
Okpechukwu’s favorite memory was playing the shirts relay during practice. The shirts relay is a game where coach lays out practice jersey’s along the baseline and splits everyone into two teams. The two teams get one ball each and take turns shooting from a place on the court named by coach. Whoever makes the shot, takes a jersey from the baseline back to their side of the court. The team with the most jerseys wins. Coach Rost-Danzy knew that working them as sophomores would make them even better and ready to contribute more their junior years.
“Overall I think they did an amazing job and greatly improved,” Coach Rost-Danzy explained.
Although Norrix hasn’t had the history of winning many games lately, the current student athletes have potential and a lot to offer to the program. The leadership and hard working qualities that these athletes contribute to the program will hopefully lead Norrix back on top.