The past few seasons, South Jeffersons Jacob Worden had trouble running up and down the court more than a few times before tiring. And because he wasnt in tip-top shape, Wordens game suffered.
But after an offseason of diligence on and off the court, the Spartans senior post man is off to a spectacular start, showing the rest of the Frontier League what he can do when hes physically fit.
Tuesday night, the 6-foot-4 Worden delivered a 26-point, 9-rebound performance as South Jefferson pulled away in the second half to defeat host Immaculate Heart Central 62-43 in a Frontier League crossover game.
In three games, Worden is averaging 22.3 points and 13 rebounds. Worden said his early season success is a tribute to his hard work and his coaches and teammates believing in him.
I just feel so much better out there, knowing that I can go longer and harder, said Worden, who combined with fellow senior Tom Bassett for 24 second-half points as the Spartans (3-0 overall, 2-0 league) pulled away after leading just 24-21 at halftime. The guys are looking for me more often because they know I can get the job done.
South Jefferson coach Fred Piche marvelled at his big mans transformation from a kid who just played on the low block, to one who is now dominating inside.
Jacob was determined to improve his stamina and his game, and he worked his butt off to get to this point, Piche said. You saw how he got up and down the floor tonight. And how hes become very efficient when we throw the ball down to him.
Worden did not play football this fall, instead concentrating on basketball. He said he and Bassett played outdoors almost every day, working on their games.
He also played AAU ball in the spring, and dedicated his off-court hours during the spring and summer to getting stronger, quicker and tougher.
When he gets the ball down low its almost impossible to stop him, said IHC coach Mike Delaney, who surrounded Worden with two or three defenders to no avail. Hes obviously very strong, he has good footwork and can finish with either hand.
Worden said he worked on a drill with a bowling ball to strengthen his hands. And has also worked tirelessly to improve his footwork in the lane.
Being able to catch the entry pass clean and then finish is a tremendous ability for a big guy, Piche said. He has such soft hands, and he can catch almost everything we throw in to the post.
Even with Worden dominating, IHC (2-1) stayed within striking range in the first half.
The Cavaliers fell behind 20-6 after an 18-4 South Jefferson run. But IHC scored 15 of the final 24 points of the half, and then tied the game at 29-all midway through the third quarter on a Jude Whalen 3-pointer.
Thats when the Spartans man-to-man defense tightened, and Worden and Bassett went to work.
IHC managed just 14 more points, while South Jefferson finished the quarter on a 13-3 run as Bassett scored the final five points. The senior guard finished with a season-high 22 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds.
Tom and I have great chemistry between us, Worden said. He knows when to get me the ball, and where I like it.
Piche praised the Spartans second-half defense, calling it superb.
When we get down and defend like that, were pretty tough, he said. But weve got to start making some outside shots.
Whalen scored 16 points and Jude Fusilli added 15 for IHC. But the Cavaliers turned the ball over 26 times, and got off just 30 shots.
Thats a bad ratio, Delaney said. We tried to take the ball to the hoop, but they just wouldnt let us get anything easy.