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Baker and Rippee are running the show at DHS

by Chuck Smock

To say the Douglas Tigers entered the current basketball season with an inexperienced group of backcourt players would be an understatement.

At the all-important point guard position, the Tigers’ first two players on the depth chart had never played a minute of varsity ball.

But junior Travis Baker and freshman Luke Rippee have stepped into the varsity spotlight with relative ease.

What opponents came into the season thinking would be a Tigers’ weakness that they could exploit has turned into one of Douglas’ strengths.

“I think they’ve done a great job,” Douglas coach Keith Lewis said. “I don’t think we’ve been a team other teams have been able to pressure real effectively. I think people thought, within the league, that they were going to be able to come out and really take advantage of Luke’s inexperience, and Travis’ inexperience too, and I think they’ve done a nice job of handling the pressure and not having any appearance that they were going to be rattled by that.”

Baker played on the Douglas junior varsity team last season. He’s averaging three points, three assists and three rebounds per contest, but knows his numbers aren’t the most important part of his game.

“I think we’ve been most successful when we transition well,” Baker said of the Tigers’ ability to switch quickly from defense to offense. “I’m always looking to push the ball, then if it’s not there, we pull back and set up the offense.”

With the return of all-league player and leading scorer Seth Lee, it would have been easy for Baker and Rippee to focus on the senior when they get into their half-court offense. But both players have done a good job making sure the other Tigers get their share of shots. Senior Rob Honer and juniors Erik Olson and Will Thomas all have shown the ability to score in double figures this season.

“I think that’s crucial,” Lewis said. “The games we’ve had three to four guys in double figures are the games we’ve been successful. Basketball is a team game. It’s not a knock on Seth, but it’s awfully hard to win at this level with one guy. They have to understand that as point guards, and I think they have. It’s really easy to become very dependent on him (Lee) because of his abilities. In terms of our success this year, and long-term, it’s vital that they get more people involved.”

Baker said the fact that he and Rippee have confidence in their teammates’ abilities to knock down the open shots makes it easier to run the offense.

“I just look for whoever is open,” he said. “I don’t care who it is.

“Everyone is getting along and doing their part in the games.”

In addition to making the big jump from middle school basketball to varsity basketball, Rippee has also had to change his game from being the focus of his team’s offense to being the guy who sets up the scoring chances for his teammates.

“I have a different role, but everybody has to accept their role when they play,” Rippee said. “The guys have done a real good job of making me feel welcome. I feel like I’m really a part of the team. I just try to go out there and get them good shots.

“The biggest adjustment is not scoring that much. In 8th grade, I used to take a lot of shots. Ever since I was a little kid, I always shot a lot. It’s not that big of a deal to me as long as we’re scoring points as a team.”

Rippee is averaging two points and two assists per game. Together, Baker and Rippee account for only four of the Tigers’ 14 turnovers per game despite the fact that they have the ball in their hands a majority of the time.

And neither seems to mind that -more often than not – it’s a teammate who gets the attention after a big win.

“The nice thing about these two is you have to have point guards who are pretty unselfish,” Lewis said. “Neither one of these kids looks to score first. We have guys who are capable of scoring and they have understood and accepted their roles. Neither one is pouting that they’re not scoring a lot of points. They’re not pouting that they’re not getting a lot of publicity.”