As visitors at separate homecoming celebrations Friday, Jan. 27, Smithton senior guard Drew Apsher and Otterville senior guard Jake Neal assumed contrasting positions for the junior varsity games.
Apsher, isolated from the varsity group by a couple seats, kicked his feet up on the row of Cole Camp bleachers below him, and sat back with earbuds in.
Surrounded by teammates, Neal quietly manned the camera recording the junior varsity Eagles in the Lincoln High School bleachers.
And while the rivalry between Smithton and Otterville, and specifically between Neal and Apsher, is tenuous – Neal said they don’t talk much – the broke respective career scoring records this season, further strengthening the parallels between two prolific scorers.
Neal broke Keith Eckerle’s 27-year scoring record of 1,698 points Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016 in the fourth quarter of a loss at Chilhowee. He has 1,927 points entering a game Friday at Lincoln, averaging more than 30 points per game.
The lanky, dark-haired Otterville senior, while reserved, is a self-described shooter and has been sinking 3-pointers with efficiency since the fourth grade.
“It gets you one more point than a regular shot,” Neal said.
Apsher, who shares Neal’s affection for 3-pointers, is blond with a habit of smiling with the crowd’s cheers and jeers alike. He broke his older brother Dane’s scoring record Tuesday, Jan. 24 in a home victory over Tipton.
A 35-point performance tipped the scales in Drew’s favor, but so did freshman minutes and mentorship from his brothers Dane and Dirk.
“At the end of my sophomore year, it came to light that there was a chance (breaking the career scoring record) would happen,” Drew said. “Both my brothers took me under their wings, and they’re a reason I’m good today. (Dane) kind of contributed to his own demise.”
With 2,000 points within grasp for both shooters, team goals – such as February’s Kaysinger Conference Tournament and upcoming district tournaments – are in focus for the short-term. Otterville is the defending Class 1, District 8 champion, while Smithton – in a Class 2, District 14 field that includes Lincoln and Sacred Heart – lost to the eventual district champs, Skyline, in double overtime last season.
After graduation, collegiate basketball and careers in sports are planned for the long-term.
“I’d like to stay around sports my whole life,” Neal said. “I’ve been thinking about sports training or sports medicine, something like that … No telling right now. We’ll see what happens.”
Drew, who said he’s passing more this season, said he wants to coach and has developed a good sense of how understanding individual roles leads to team success.
“That’s the biggest helper throughout your whole career, is the way your teammates play with you,” Drew said. “Smithton, growing up here, it’s not a big place. You get a feel for who does what role and at what time, and everybody accepting what their role is. As the season has gone along this year, everybody is really working that out, and I think we can start peaking and make a good run.”
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2