Rock Island senior basketball player Trae Babers says he fully accepts his role as a reserve.|
In fact, that is his preference.
A bench role is exactly what Babers wants, even saying he is "comfortable" with it despite averaging 7.8 points per game. In his mind, everything is better being a reserve.
"I don't get any butterflies or jitters," Babers said. "I get to observe who I'm going to guard and who is going to guard me. I get to watch."
Those who have watched Babers see a player who had often made an impact but has taken his talents a step further this season.Improved ball-handling skills and better defensive awareness make Babers a threat all over the court. Known primarily before the season started as a lethal 3-point shooter, he now offers a more diverse game.
Especially in recent weeks, he has shown the ability to make defensive plays when the Rocks needed them. He also has shown he can score near the basket. He does this without forcing shots or making mistakes as he makes the most of his minutes.
"I come off the bench and do what I do," Babers said.
There's a tie-in to his effectiveness. A student of the game who admits to watching basketball on television whenever he can on top of studying the action during a game, Babers knows what to do when he takes the court. It's difficult to find him out of control or out of position.A high basketball IQ helps him understand what needs to be done.
"He's playing as well as I've seen him play," Rocky coach Thom Sigel said. "He has great court vision and does a lot of different things."
So many, in fact, that Sigel cannot pick Babers' singular strength.
"Skilled, heady player," Sigel said. "He can pass, dribble and shoot. He's unselfish."
Babers ranks fifth on the team in scoring and averages 8.4 points in Western Big 6 Conference play. In recent weeks, he has delivered when clutch plays are needed.
During a 61-56 win over Wheaton North on Jan. 26, he had a key steal and layup on his way to a 12-point performance. The defensive play and basket came late in the fourth quarter, with Babers providing pivotal minutes during crunch time.
Even as a reserve, Babers sees the floor when it matters.
"He doesn't feel like he's defined by a role," Sigel said. "He's one of our key guys."
Within the last few weeks, he is performing like a key player.
"My confidence is getting better each game," Babers said. "I try to bring energy off the bench."
To some, coming off the bench is not appealing. Babers is not one of them, allowing him to continue a season-long trend of consistency.
"Other teams see me come into the game and don't think I can be effective or a threat," Babers said. "I'm comfortable with how I'm playing now."
Metro boys' basketball writer Daniel Makarewicz can be reached at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @danmak57
Big 6 boys' standings
School W-L Conf.
Quincy 15-6 6-1
Rock Island 17-4 5-2
Galesburg 15-12 5-2
Moline 16-10 3-4
Alleman 6-15 1-6
UTHS 3-19 1-6
Tonight's games (all 7:30)
Alleman at United Township
Galesburg at Rock Island
Moline at Quincy