Prescott Williams heard the whispers that said he couldn’t shoot. Josh Kipfer only needed to look in the mirror to realize he was a gangly 6-foot-4 center who still had some growing up to do.
A year of hard work later, the pair is among the top 1-2 punches in the Suburban League and a key reason why the Grizzlies (5-3, 3-2) continue to win without injured shooting guard Jack Snowball.
They aren’t the prototypical inside-out combination so prevalent in high school basketball, which at the same time makes them unique. Both are long, athletic, can bang inside and both have proven they can take over games — most notably having a hand in all 21 fourth-quarter points in a recent win over Cloverleaf.
Most important, Wadsworth’s only veterans have great chemistry.
“I’m usually always getting face-guarded, so when I get more pressure it’s easier for Josh to score,” Williams said. “Whoever is getting more pressure it just makes it easier for the other person.”
Now in his third varsity season, the transformation of Williams has been impressive.
As a sophomore, he was a skinny yet athletic 6-1 swingman. His defense was sound, but his offense was a long ways off as he put up just over three points per game.
The bottom line was he couldn’t shoot. Once opponents learned that, they sagged off defensively and took away his wide variety of off-the-dribble skills. Most of his 11.8 scoring average last season came in transition or through second-chance points.
What’s been the difference from then to now?
“It’s been working hard in the summertime,” Williams said. “And working on my shot and trying to get better.”
During the summer, Williams played AAU for King of the Court, an Akron-area team. He played with Copley’s C.J. Chatman and Roosevelt Dotson after previously rolling with Revere’s Larry Nance Jr. and D.J. Bettinger.
Thanks to his hard work, the now 6-3 Williams can stroke it from deep. He already has 12 3-pointers, which is more than he had in the previous two seasons combined, and is averaging 18.6 points per game. That trails only Nance (21.0) in the league.
Obviously, Williams’ improved shooting has opened up his penetration game again — featuring a quick jab-step and a mean cross-over — that makes him one of the most dynamic threats in the SL.
Cloverleaf found that out the hard way last week as Williams scored 24 points, grabbed nine rebounds (6 offensive) and dished out seven assists in a 68-55 win.
“I would put him in the top three in the league, absolutely,” coach Mike Schmeltzer Jr. said. “I definitely think if he’s not the best player right now, he’s one of them for sure.
“He’s got great athleticism and he’s got great handles under pressure. He’s a smart basketball player and he’s unselfish. Those tools make a pretty good player.”
The 6-6 Kipfer began last season as the starting center, lost the job and regained it all in a three-month span.
Through it all, Kipfer never got discouraged and kept plugging away. He was wildly inconsistent, but never got consistent touches with Anthony Schrock, Williams and Snowball handling most of the scoring.
With Snowball now out, Kipfer is getting his shot. He’s meeting the challenge with flying colors.
“He’s not going to be intimidated anymore,” Schmeltzer said. “He wants to go at people and he’s starting to develop as a leader on this team. I think he’s doing a great job.”
Instead of getting yeoman points off offensive rebounds or via dump off passes from penetrating teammates, Kipfer is now scoring from set plays.
Working primarily with point guard Tate Moore, Kipfer has excelled at getting position on the low block and scoring with a nice little jump hook or a drop step.
It may not seem like much, but there aren’t a lot of big men around who can stop him.
Most telling of all, however, is Kipfer is always under control, which is something he attributes to Schmeltzer.
“Whenever we get down, Coach will call a timeout to calm us down and keep me and Prescott’s heads in there,” Kipfer said. “We’ll lead the team to getting better out there.”
So far, Kipfer and Williams have done just that.
“That’s our experience coming back, so you have to go with those guys,” Schmeltzer said. “They’ve really stepped it up.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.