Early in the third quarter of the West Ottawa Boy’s Varsity basketball matchup against Caledonia, Jr. Tanner Wiegerink receives a sharp bounce pass to the outside of the lane. Using his strength and stature, he holds off the opposing defender while holding the ball up above his head. After scanning the court and seeing his options, Wiegerink decides to go to the rim. Keeping the ball elevated, he quickly fakes left then turns right and finishes with an easy left-handed lay-up. What most people see as a routine turn and finish, was actually a well thought out and technical move. For months prior to the season, Wiegerink practiced and perfected the simplest action in basketball, holding the ball high. A basic skill, but an overlooked one.
As basketball players develop their game, it can become a habit to keep the ball lower to the court. The difference between keeping the ball low or high may seem minimal, but elevating the ball, especially for a player as tall as Wiegerink, can be the difference between scoring and having the ball stolen. “A lot of my coaches have told me to keep the the ball up because I would turn the ball over too many times after bringing the ball down” Wiegerink said. After months of work, Wiegerink finally broke his habit of bringing the ball down, and as a result, his performances have improved immensely.
At 6’4”, Wiegerink is usually the tallest on the court. For a player similar to Wiegerink’s size, keeping the ball high, even above the head, means the opposition has a tougher time stealing the ball. As Wiegerink started to recognize the effectiveness of keeping the ball high, he started to work towards perfecting it.
At every single practice since the summer, Wiegerink worked tirelessly to establish a new habit of keeping the ball up. “I would have someone pass me the ball, and I would post up while keeping the ball high, then make a move and finish. I did this for as many times as it took for me to hold the ball high without even thinking about it,” Wiegerink said. It may not seem complicated to keep the ball elevated, but in a high-pressure situation, muscle memory takes over. Wiegerink practiced keeping the ball up over and over so that in game situations it would be natural for him to hold the ball high. “At almost every single practice, Tanner had me pass to him so he could work on keeping the ball up. He would do it over and over until it was natural for him. Sometimes it seemed like too much practice, if that’s possible” Jr. Blake Pedersen said.
Wiegerink’s practice not only helps him score, but also it helps him avoid turnovers after defensive rebounds. “I would throw the ball off the backboard and practice rebounding it then keeping it up instead of bringing it down,” Wiegerink said. “This drill helps me when I rebound on defense because when I keep the ball up, the shorter players can’t steal the ball back.”
Many assume that it doesn’t matter if the ball is high or low, but a player is much less likely to have the ball stolen when holding it up compared to down. “After Tanner worked on keeping the ball up, he’s been more consistent on offense. He’s even been top scorer in multiple games this season,” Pedersen said. By perfecting the basic action of keeping the ball up, Wiegerink has quickly improved his game.
Each week, Wiegerink is getting better and better. After putting in work for months, he is finally seeing results. Against Godwin Heights, Rockford, and East Kentwood, he led the team with 15 points. He put up 10 against Grand Haven, 12 against Caledonia, and helped the Panthers edge past Mona Shores by scoring 14.
Since perfecting the fundamental skill of holding the ball high, Wiegerink has been a routine top scorer for West Ottawa. However, his next big test comes early in March when the panthers compete in district play.