Alter’s Jacob Conner surveys the court in a way most high school point guards can’t – from 6 feet, 9 inches above the floor.
“If I had to coach against him, it would be really tough because he’s a matchup problem,” Alter coach Eric Coulter said.
Do you guard Conner with someone quick even if you give up nine or 10 inches? Do you try bigger and more physical? Do you double-team? Do you play zone?
Part of the conundrum is what the defense chooses to focus on. It can’t be to simply stop Conner from scoring. He can get you 20 if necessary, but his first instinct is not to shoot. Instead, he wants to set up his teammates for open shots.
“He’s probably the most selfless player I’ve ever played with,” senior forward Brian Shane said. “He’s always looking to get other people the ball.”
Coulter said Conner cares only about winning and is the most unselfish player he’s coached during his long stay as an assistant and now as head coach at Alter. Conner leads the Greater Catholic League Co-ed in assists at 4.1 a game, averages 9.9 points and has gotten the attention of Division I college coaches.
“He’s the glue who holds our whole team together,” Shane said. “Some of those passes he makes, little no-looks, stuff that nobody else really sees, he’ll just fit it through a little gap. He’s a great playmaker. He means everything to our team.”
In last Friday’s win over Cincinnati Roger Bacon, Conner had eight assists and nine points as the Knights made 11 3-pointers. He passed up shots he could have easily taken over smaller defenders to find a wide-open teammate.
“I like just being able to get other guys involved,” Conner said. “It’s great to see other guys succeed, and it helps us as a team if it’s not all focused on one player.”
Alter (9-6, 6-5 GCL) has won five of its last seven games. On Friday, the Knights defeated league-leading Bacon 66-53. On Jan. 9, the Knights lost 62-44 at Bacon. In December, they lost at Fenwick 64-55. Two weeks ago the Knights beat Fenwick 54-41. On Saturday, the suffered a one-point loss to Chaminade Julienne. Conner scored 17 and had 10 rebounds.
“Obviously we’re still working through things and we want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year,” Conner said. “We’re definitely starting to come around, and I think our best basketball is ahead of us for sure.”
Conner is a junior who has attracted 14 offers from Division I mid-major programs. He started and ran the point last year with four seniors. The Knights finished 22-4 and won districts. They were set for the regional semifinals when the tournament was shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Last year the success we had ran through Jacob Conner, because he found guys that were shooters and were scorers and he looked for them all the time,” Coulter said.
The summer AAU season, limited as it was, boosted Conner’s recruiting. He has offers from Wright State, Miami, Ohio, Northern Kentucky, Toledo, Youngstown State, Mount St. Mary’s, Western Carolina, Winthrop, Stetson, Marshall, Robert Morris, Bryant and most recently Santa Clara.
Those schools have different ideas about where someone 6-9 should play. Some say he’s a one (point guard), some say he’s a three (wing/small forward) and some say he’s a four (power forward).
“The position I play in college will have a big impact on the decision I make because I think there are things I can do at one position that I may not be able to do at others,” Conner said. “My preference is to play the one, but I can play the three too. Those are what I’m more comfortable with, and those are more of my natural positions.”
Conner’s versatility is clear. In addition to leading the GCL in assists, he leads in blocked shots (3.7), is second in rebounding (9.8) and is third in steals (2.3). As a sophomore he averaged 5.2 points, 3.3 assists and shot 50.8% (30 of 59) from 3-point range. In this season of interruptions, he is shooting 27.3% (15 of 55) from 3-point range. In the three most recent games, he is 4 for 12.
In the first half Friday against Bacon, the player Conner started looking for was Gavin Geisel. Geisel, a 6-0 sophomore, recently entered the starting lineup when Ryan Chew, the team’s leading scorer, was forced to the bench for the rest of the season because of the state’s transfer rule. Geisel made three 3-pointers in the half and four for the game.
“He’s trying to help the team win,” Shane said of Conner. “He’s not necessarily worried about himself. He’s worried about the team. That’s what a true leader and true player should be.”
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