In a lot of ways, Glenelg guard Nick Oates has seen his high school basketball career come full circle.
He's gone from being the freshman starting on varsity four years ago, learning from an all-county player in Troy Spurrier, to now seeing himself become the senior leader trying to guide the Gladiators to their best season since 2010-11.
While Glenelg has suffered through an injury to its top post player — Daine Van de Wall — and seen every member of its starting line-up miss at least one game for some reason or another, the team has found ways to remain competitive. Oates, who has taken his game to the next level this winter, is a major reason why.
After averaging just over 12 points a game each of the last two seasons, Oates has pushed his scoring average up over 20 points a night to rank among the top five scorers in Howard County this year. He's scored in double figures in every game, and gone for 20 or more points on six occasions.
However, while the scoring bump has put him in elite company, Oates has bigger goals. After finishing around .500 each of the last two seasons and failing to reach the region finals, he has his sights set on helping this Glenelg team peak at the right time and make a postseason run.
The team entered the week at 6-7 overall, but has won five of its last seven games. And the way Oates sees it, the team is still just scratching the surface of its potential.
You guys have had a good bit of adversity so far, how do you feel the team has handled that?
We've had injuries all throughout the season, either that or people getting sick, but I think as we've gone through the season we've learned to play with the guys that we have and players have stepped up each night. We've definitely gotten stronger and that's why you've seen us be able to win five out of seven.
Run me through the emotions of losing Daine Van de Wall to injury just days before the season?
Before the season, we thought we had a great chance with our full team to compete for a Howard County championship and a state championship. I think we've gotten back to where we think we can be something special, but it's taken a little longer to get here without Daine. Having him go down was definitely devastating because he's our main big man, and without him we don't have too much size. So we've had to figure things out a little and develop some of our younger players.
Did you personally feel more pressure to step up your game?
I don't really view it as pressure as much as it's a good opportunity for me to step up and be a senior leader. We have role players now being asked to play bigger roles, and I feel like it's up to me and the other guys with experience to set the example. We have a freshman point guard Garrett (Mills), for example, whose playing big minutes now and Hank (Koele), a sophomore, being asked to do more too. Yeah, I've been scoring a lot more than last season, but I know I can't do any of it without them progressing and getting better every day too.
With Garrett being a freshman on varsity just like you were four years ago, what's that like now being the senior trying to help along the younger guy?
When I was a freshman, I definitely remember looking up to Troy (Spurrier) and he was a role model to me. I felt like I learned a lot from him. So with Garrett being a freshman now, I've definitely made a point of trying to take him under my wing as much as I can to teach him stuff and encourage him to be confident in his abilities. He's already a great player and he's going to continue to get better as he moves along.
Looking back to your freshman year, do you remember those first few games on varsity?
I'm going to be honest, I was a little intimidated my first game. I remember we were going to Forest Park High School for our first regular season game — an out-of-county game (against Edmondson). I was really small and I knew I was going to be starting, so I think naturally you wonder how you are going to match-up. But I think I realized pretty quickly that no one expects you to be great right away as a freshman, and there were senior guys to help me along.
There was a big jump from your freshman to sophomore year in terms of scoring. From sophomore to junior year, though, things leveled out. Was that a concern for you?
It wasn't as much the average for me last year as it was trying to become more consistent as a scorer. Sophomore year I would have like a 38-point game and then a 5-point game the next time out or something like that. I wanted to be more reliable. Also, we had guys like Dom (Napolitano) really step up and play great all year to lead the team in scoring last year, so I could focus more on other areas like getting everyone involved.
So then what's changed this season that's allowed you to add more than 8 points to your average?
I definitely feel like I've grown as a player. I've been attacking the rim better and getting to the free throw line more frequently. I honestly don't make as many threes as Matt, he's definitely our best 3-point shooter. But, yeah, I've been in attack mode every game.
What did you do in the offseason to get ready to make this kind of jump?
The offseason wasn't really an offseason, to be honest. I played AAU with HC Elite and with Dom, whose dad was the coach. We went to tournaments all up and down the East Coast, and that was great for exposure playing against so much high-level competition. A big point of emphasis for me was defense and becoming a better defender both on ball and off ball.
Have you started to generate some college interest?
I'm hoping to play college basketball at a DIII school. I have like five or six options that I'm looking at, but right now they aren't in any particular order. I probably won't make any decisions until after the high school season.
Have you put any thought into what your college major will be?
I haven't decided yet, but I'm leaning toward something with the STEM program or communications.
Outside of basketball, what other sports did you play growing up?
Growing up I played travel baseball for five years. I would actually say that was my No. 1 sport, even in front of basketball. I also played like soccer and lacrosse for a year when I was younger. But then about seventh grade, I started taking basketball more seriously and saw pretty quickly that was my better sport. That's when I played my first year of AAU and I quit baseball.
Having been with coach Jansen McMillan now for four years, what's your relationship like?
These last four years with him have been great. He's definitely one of my favorite coaches I've had, if not my favorite. We've had a great four years both on the court and off the court. He's the kind of coach that you can joke with off the court, and then know that he's all business on it. And you know that he's got your back. He's someone I definitely look up to.
As a team, you guys have finished around .500 the last two seasons. Sitting right around .500 again this winter, what's going to be the key to a stronger finish?
I think the most important thing is that we need everyone to believe that we can do something great. I think we have the talent and the ability, but it's a matter of actually going out and doing it. If we're all healthy, with our senior experience and our younger guys having grown up a lot since the beginning of the season, I know we can make a run.