HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
On Winnebago's first day of basketball conditioning, Jeff Berridge lined up his varsity and assigned players roles.
The Indians were coming off their first state championship in 75 years, a storybook run that united the reservation and captivated high school fans across the state. They executed a thrilling brand of basketball that combined skill, pace and unselfishness.
But most of that team was gone. Three starters had graduated. One had transferred.
Berridge wanted his guys to know immediately his expectations. He went down the line, identifying his passers and rebounders, his screeners and floor-divers.
When he came to David Wingett, the 6-foot-7 junior, Berridgemade sure everybody knew who they were sitting next to — the kind of talent Winnebago has never had.
Class C-2 Winnebago is 25-0 this season and goes for win No. 26 at West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic on Friday. Boys subdistrict play in Classes C-1, C-2, D-1 and D-2 begins Monday.
"He's one of the best players in the state of Nebraska," Berridge told the team. "Everything's gonna go through him. He's gonna be our leader."
Twenty-five victories (and zero losses) later, Wingett hasn't disappointed. He leads the state with 28.9 points per game. That includes a few fireworks shows like his 50 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks against Laurel-Concord/Coleridge.
The Indians aren't exactly a one-man show. South Sioux City transfers Aspen and D'Von LaPointe could play for almost any team in the state — D'Von buried a 3 at the buzzer last Saturday to beat Gothenburg in the Heartland Hoops Classic. But Wingett is the man rattling rims, drawing junk defenses and attracting Division I attention.
Creighton, Nebraska, UNO, South Dakota and South Dakota State have contacted him. The Huskers, he says, are his favorite school. He's taken multiple unofficial visits.
"Nebraska's been my dream since I was a kid," Wingett said.
A kid from the reservation getting attention from major conferences is highly unusual. But Wingett's production is hard to ignore. So is his potential. He can dribble, pass and bury 3s.
"He likes making a good pass as much as he likes making a 3-pointer," his dad said. "But I think he likes dunking maybe a little more than passing."
"You don't find a lot of 6-7 kids that move that well," Gothenburg coach Roger Koehler said. "He's a natural basketball player."
Yet Wingett's 180-pound frame is undeniably raw. Berridge constantly hounds him: "Protein shakes. Protein shakes." Every time Wingett adds a pound in the weight room, he burns it off in the gym.
"You should see how much I eat," he says. "I've been trying. It's just not coming."
What's coming — two or three at a time — are recruiting letters. They started after last year's championship.
The Indians entered the 2015 state tournament without a single game against a Class C-1 opponent. Could they really compete with traditional powers? Yes.
In three days, they hammered Wahoo, Grand Island Central Catholic and Columbus Scotus, trailing for less than two minutes the entire tournament. Cumulatively, they led 63-22 at the end of the first quarter.
Wingett scored 14.3 points per tournament game and led Winnebago for the season at 17.9, earning second-team All-Nebraska honors. Still, the Indians were so good collectively that David didn't always stand out. Now he's the focal point for every defense.
"Sometimes it's pretty tiring," he says.
Against Gothenburg, Wingett scored 16 points in the first quarter. But as the Swedes rallied after halftime from a 23-point deficit, Wingett was stuck on 22, barely moving from the high post.
Finally, he stepped up. In the final 4:07, he stuffed the stat sheet with two 3s, three free throws, a steal, a block and a dunk.
He's actually been trying to cut down on the latter. Dunking is hard on his knees, he says.
His team has won 45 in a row. He's scoring 29 a night. It's not the worst problem to have.