Northeast Dubois boys basketball coach Terry Friedman is adamant on emphasizing the importance of senior leadership, but this year, he has to rely on quality more than quantity for that.
Colby Pieper knew this was coming because he’s been in the rotation since he was an underclassman, but now, the Jeeps are not only looking to him for production, as he’s averaging a team-best 12.5 points per game, but also for leadership as the team’s only senior.
“The pressure’s obviously there because everyone’s looking up to you and making sure you’re doing the right thing and all that, but I think everything will come around and they’ll start falling right behind me,” Pieper said.
Pieper talked with former teammate Reece Bauer, a 2020 graduate and the Jeeps’ all-time leading boys basketball scorer. Bauer knew what it was like to carry that mantle as a senior for Northeast Dubois when he and Pieper won a sectional championship together during the 2019-20 campaign, and he credited Bauer imparting him with advice on his current role.
“He came through and told me the guys are going to look up to me, and I have to continue to do the right stuff — even if things are going bad,” he said.
He modestly feels he’s doing alright as a leader, but wouldn’t grade himself too high. Pieper feels like he could do better in keeping everybody motivated and everybody trying their hardest — even when things aren’t going well.
From a wins and losses standpoint, not much is going well for the 3-8 Jeeps. But Friedman doesn’t think the team’s record should define the kind of leader that Pieper is.
“If we look at our record, we’re about halfway through our season — approaching that point there, and our schedule is tough,” Friedman said. “And I think this point of the year, we can’t judge our progress and we can’t judge the success of our team on our won-loss record. What we really have to judge it on is are we improving?
“And we’ve seen, I feel like, significant improvement within our play since the Princeton game within our Southridge Tournament,” he continued. “I thought we put together a pretty strong weekend there (Jan. 7-8), played a very strong South Knox team, tough on the road. And we were able to battle Southridge down to the wire here on Saturday night. So, we are seeing improvement in the right direction and I think a lot of that was attributed this last weekend to Colby and his leadership.”
Pieper’s had to step up and demonstrate his leadership multiple times throughout the season, with the game against the Raiders being one of those times. Despite the fact that Pieper tied for a game-high 17 points, the Jeeps let a 26-14 halftime lead slip into a 50-48 loss in double overtime.
But even though he’s a senior leader and one of the team’s captains, there may be times where Pieper has his head down despite encouraging others to keep theirs up. Fellow captain Ty Kalb, a junior, will be someone to pick Pieper up when he’s down, and when Kalb missed what would’ve been the game-winning, buzzer-beater 3-pointer against the Raiders in double OT, that was when Pieper was there to lift him up.
“I went to right up to him, he had his hands on his head and I said, ‘Hey, man, this is one game, this ain’t what we’re working towards — to beat Southridge, we’re here to work through the rest of the season to get better as we go,’ ” Pieper said.
“I think the key was that Colby maintained his poise,” Friedman said. “Colby in the past has had situations on the court out there where he sometimes allowed his emotions to get best of him, and maybe didn’t handle the situations right. I felt like over the weekend, both in the South Knox game and in the Southridge game that Colby was able to handle himself better in some tough situations and then stay focused — and as we say, kind of stay in the moment playing there in those games.”
He will continue to be a much-needed presence to mentor a junior-heavy team — one that has lost eight out of its last nine and one that currently isn’t scheduled to play again until Jan. 21 against Blue Chip Conference foe Vincennes Rivet.
The Jeeps were supposed to play today at Paoli, but a COVID-19 outbreak at the school has forced the cancellation of athletic events through Satur- day.
Friedman, who is also the school’s athletic director, said the game with the Rams will be made up, but he didn’t have a make up date when speaking to The Herald on Wednesday afternoon.
The adversity is there, but season turnarounds do happen, and the Jeeps, a team that has recorded 88 offensive rebounds this season, hope to be one of those teams and recapture some of that postseason glory they attained two seasons ago.
“I think a lot of guys on the team — we got a lot of pride and we’re really not going to let that go,” Pieper said. “We won’t stop playing until the very end. I don’t think anyone’s going to really quit out and not want to play anymore and just stop caring. Everyone cares, and everyone wants to work towards a sectional (championship).”