KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — During the summer, Taite Beighley and Micah Rupp were regulars on the basketball court at a nearby park.
(Pictured above, Taite Beighley concentrates on a free throw attempt last season)
“He was always getting me to go out there with him,” Rupp said. “We went to the park like every single day and played with a bunch of people. It really helped us. He’s also been lifting, so he’s not so little anymore. He got a lot bigger from last year, I think. He’s taking more hits this year, so it’s good he’s stronger.”
The Karns City duo strengthened their already strong bond through those offseason pick-up games.
And it’s showing on the court already for the Gremlins, who are off to a 3-0 start.
Karns City needs Beighley and Rupp to raise their game. The leading scorer from last year, Luke Cramer, suffered a knee injury during the first football game this fall and will miss the entire basketball campaign.
Gremlin coach Zach Kepple said he believes Beighley and Rupp are more than up for that challenge.
“Taite has a full year of varsity experience under his belt and we’re looking for him to really carry us offensively,” Kepple said. “He showed flashes of that last year as a main contributor to your offense, but now that he has that full year, we’re looking for him to take that next step. Same thing with Micah. We all know that he is a difference-maker defensively and on the glass. We’re hoping he can be a little more of a bigger threat for us offensively, especially with Cramer down. We’re going to have to make up 15 points a game that he would have given us.”
Beighley, still only a junior, scored 17 in the season opener against Portersville Christian and then poured in 20 the next night against North East. He added 10 more to his total on Wednesday night at Keystone.
The big difference for Beighley this year as opposed to last — other than the fact he is taller and stronger — is he has become more willing to score as his role has changed.
“Since Cramer went out, I knew I was gonna be one of the top options to score,” the point guard said. “He was our leading scorer last year. This year I had to take a step forward and take more shots now. I’m more confident in my second year with Coach Kepple. He’s really helped me. He tells me to shoot it and he’s really trusting me in that. Now I can just play my game with him.”
Beighley also worked a great deal on improving his left hand.
It was something he has mentioned before and something he honed in on during all those summer days spent at the park with Rupp.
“In the past when you asked me what I needed to work on, I said my left hand,” Beighley said, smiling, “and I’ve really worked on that a lot. You can ask all the coaches and my teammates and in games and in practices and in scrimmages they’ll mention I’ve been doing that a lot more. I think it makes me much more of a threat to score.”
Beighley is still creating for his teammates with his quickness off the dribble and his ability to drive into the paint and either score or dish.
Others are benefitting, too, from those abilities.
Senior guard Braden Grossman is also off to a hot start. He scored 16 in the opener and put up 13 more against Keystone, despite sitting for long stretches of the game in foul trouble.
Rupp, a senior forward, has also seen his scoring spike a bit — he had 12 against the Panthers and 10 against North East.
But defense is Rupp’s calling card. With his tremendous leaping ability, sixth-sense when it comes to blocking shots and a long wingspan that helps him get steals and step into passing lanes, Rupp is one of the more gifted stoppers in the state.
Even Beighley sometimes marvels at what Rupp can do.
“When Micah in the paint, he’s gonna block it,” Beighley said. “No one can jump with him. He’s either gonna pin it, send it away or at least contest it.”
Rupp has had a penchant for trailing a play, then swatting a shot from an unsuspecting opponent.
It usually fires up the Karns City faithful when that happens. Also, his teammates.
“It’s amazing to see, and even sometimes on the fast breaks, when we’re communicating, I tell him to go up and block and he goes up and gets it,” Beighley said. “It’s just such an energy booster for all of us.”
When asked how he does the things he does on defense, Rupp smiles again and shrugs his shoulders.
Natural ability? Sure. But also a little bit of study.
“I watch college players and NBA players do it,” Rupp said. “I watch what they do.”
Kepple said Rupp’s unique skill set for a high schooler allows the rest of the defense to take more gambles, which causes more turnovers and easy points at the other end.
It’s a luxury few coaches have — at any level.
“He’s a good shot blocker — he had almost four blocks a game last year,” Kepple said. “Even if he isn’t blocking a shot, he’s affecting it.”
Rupp had five blocks against Keystone.
“I haven’t had a lot of blocks this year — I had a couple against North East,” Rupp said, grinning again. “It was about time I got some big blocks.”
With the play of Beighley, Rupp and others like Hobie Bartoe, Grossman, Jacob Callihan and big, 6-foot-5 sophomore Shane Peters — Karns City has already received key contributions down its roster this season — the Gremlins are thinking big.
“I’m so excited. We have a great team with a lot of chemistry,” Beighley said. “Everyone on our team can shoot and run and I think that’s what we’re really gonna do, beat teams with our speed and athleticism. It’s going to be hard for people to guard us.”