LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The Bradenton Christian boys basketball team received an early Christmas present this year.
J.T. Noellert, a 6-foot-7 forward from Pittsburgh, moved to Bradenton for this school year, and his presence changed the Panthers from a small team to one that has good size and might even be called big.
The junior showed his value when he registered a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds in Bradenton Christian's 67-36 Class 3A-District 10 victory over host Out-Of-Door-Academy on Thursday night.
Noellert said that he sees his teammates as a present for him because they play unselfishly and are willing to get the ball into the post. He is averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds.
"The way some of our guards play is different from what I was used to up there. They pass the ball a lot more, and they are better shooters," Noellert said. "I had to make an adjustment when I came here because of that. On the boards, I just think I was in the right position to get the rebound tonight."
With four players averaging double figures, Bradenton Christian has a balanced attack. The Panthers showed their unselfishness against ODA with nine players scoring, including four with nine points or better.
The game was won on the glass with the Panthers grabbing 39 rebounds to only 17 for The Thunder. Bradenton Christian is 5-1 overall and 2-0 in district play. ODA dropped to 1-5 and 0-2 in the district.
"J.T. is getting more and more comfortable with the guys. They are starting to learn how to play with him, and he is starting to fit in nice," Bradenton Christian head coach Scott Townsend said.
Ryan Leunk, a 6-3 junior who is the leading scorer on the season (24 ppg), had 14 points and nine rebounds. Jake Lister contributed 11 points, and Vince Rehfeldt had nine.
"I thought we played well. It was a good team effort, and we got a lot of guys a lot of minutes," Townsend said. "The last few years we struggled on the boards, especially defensive rebounding, and we have been putting an emphasis on that."
ODA was led by sophomore
guard Amad Brayboy, who scored 13 points and showed his skills with silky smooth moves to the basket.
Patience is the buzzword for Marcus Liberty, who is in his second year as ODA's head coach, taking over a program that has struggled. But his kids played hard the entire game even when they were down by a large margin.
Liberty was the top-rated high school basketball player in the country when he came out of Chicago in 1987 and was the Parade Magazine Player of The year. He was an All-American at the University of Illinois and played four years in the NBA.
"I want to develop their skills and give them encouragement. It's getting better because when I got here a lot of guys couldn't even dribble or shoot," Liberty said. "I just think if guys go out there and learn how to compete, no matter who you are playing, things will improve. I love basketball, and I love teaching and mentoring kids. This is a hard task at hand, but one I am ready to take on."