BLANCHESTER — Blanchester junior Brayden Sipple entered the school year as a two-sport standout. He was a talented quarterback on the gridiron to go with his basketball success. He made the difficult choice in the offseason to focus on basketball alone.
But that didn’t mean he had time off in the fall. While most students were looking for an extra few minutes of sleep in the morning, Sipple hit the weights.
He had a daily appointment at Wilmington’s Vital Fitness with head coach Adam Weber.
“He committed to the weight room,” Weber said. “A lot of people don’t know this, but all fall, he met me in Wilmington at 6 a.m. before he went to his college classes. We hit the gym. He put the work in.”
The work he put in off the court has him in a class of his own in Blanchester boys basketball history.
PUTTING IN THE TIME
The difference was evident in Blanchester’s season-opening win Wednesday night, and not just when he was dunking on Lockland. He fought through contact on every screen attempt and every shot inside the arc. He still scored 37 points and pulled down 17 rebounds.
“That’s not something that happened by accident,” Weber said. “He put the time in. Really, we’ve pulled back with the season on. It’s definitely showing in his game.”
Standing next to Blanchester’s junior Brayden Sipple after the game, it’s not hard to notice the difference in his physical build compared to a season ago.
The difference in his physicality on the court this season compared to last season is even more obvious. Just ask Lockland.
En route to surpassing the late Bob Jacoby and Todd Lane to become Blanchester’s boys basketball all-time leading scorer, he inflicted some physical punishment on the Panthers.
That was most evident on his last of a handful of dunks on the night.
Sipple started outside the lane on the left. He had a crease to the basket with several Panthers along the way. Sipple charged toward the rim, blasted through steal attempts and threw down a ferocious jam that brought the fans at Blanchester High School to their feet.
If he is able to withstand the physical punishment that comes with being a Division I basketball prospect, there are many more fun nights ahead at Blanchester High School.
Those fun nights started with not-as-fun mornings in Wilmington.
MIDDLE SCHOOL CHANGE
Having spent more than 25 years around the Blanchester boys basketball program, I’ve heard from time-to-time about kids coming up through the middle school and how they were special.
Many of them went on to have very good high school careers. The buzz around Sipple, even in middle school, was unlike any I’d heard in 25 years.
This kid was going to be a difference-maker, and people really didn’t know what his ceiling was going to be. Truth be told, they still may not know how good he’s going to be. The sky seems to be the limit.
Sipple’s efforts in middle school laid the groundwork for his current success.
“I do wish I would have worked harder when I was younger,” Sipple said. “Once I hit seventh and eighth grade, I started putting in extra work. That’s what got me here.”
After falling just 27 points shy of the school record at the end of his sophomore season, Sipple had to wait until Wednesday to break the record. He used that benchmark during his offseason preparation.
“It was more of a motivation going into the year,” Sipple said. “I wasn’t too worried about it. I was just hoping we’d get the win.”
During the handful of occasions where I’ve had the chance to talk to Sipple, talking about himself doesn’t seem to be one of his favorite topics. He’s always ready to point the attention at his teammates, his coaches and his family.
Like Weber, Sipple believes this can be a special group.
“We play really well together,” Sipple said. “We’ve definitely got some goals set out in front of us. One of our goals is a gold ball in the league. This offseason was big for us. We put in a lot of extra work. Coach (Ron) Harris did a great job getting us into the gym to put in extra work.”
COMING UP WITH A PLAN
The work of his teammates will certainly be tested. Just as they did last season, teams will certainly do everything they can to force Sipple’s teammates to beat them.
This was the case late last season at East Clinton. Tony Berlin, one of the best basketball coaches in the business, came up with a plan for his team to slow Sipple.
“We had five different defenses on the board,” Berlin said. “We were going to switch it up and try to slow them down a little bit. High school kids, if they miss a wide-open jumper, first thing they think is, ‘They’re not even guarding me, and I missed it.’ Next thing you know, they’re aiming it a little bit. If they miss two or three, you’ve got them.”
Sipple scored just 13 points, but the Wildcats held on for the victory.
The challenge for opposing teams and coaches will likely be greater this season. Weber believes the physical nature of the team’s preseason practices has them ready for whatever opponents might throw their way.
“We’ve had a really challenging preseason as far as conditioning goes,” Weber said. “A lot of teams try to play their way into shape. These guys are in shape. I only played six guys most of the night, and they’re not tired.”
Less than 48 hours after the celebration surrounding Sipple and his new record, Blanchester returns to the hardwood to open Southern Buckeye Conference National Division play. Their first opponent is the alma mater of Brayden’s father Rob — Williamsburg.
“It was nice to get the rust off, but all that other stuff I’m not worried about,” Weber said. “I know (Williamsburg) Coach (Dan) McKibben will have a plan in place. We’ve got to find the areas where we can exploit it.”
Matt Sexton covers high school sports for the News Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bymattsexton.