The River Ridge boys basketball team equaled the program’s best finish in school history last year – placing fourth at the Class 2A state tournament.
As the Hawks were making history, all teammate Jordan Skipper-Brown could do was watch as he was ineligible.
Hard work and a re-commitment to the books has him back on the court.
“I thought he was the missing piece last year (during the state tournament). I really did,” River Ridge coach John Barbee said. “Academically, he’s great now. I think not being able to play last year served as a wake-up call for him. I think he had to learn the hard way, but he’s learned and that’s what you want to see. He has a heck of a future ahead of him.”
The bright outlook comes following a past that featured several moves and relocations.
Skipper-Brown, whose father serves in the U.S. Army, started life in Virginia before moving to Germany then back to Virginia. Next was a stop at Fort Hood in Texas before the family arrived in Lacey last year after his dad was stationed at JBLM.
He admits the moves were difficult on him, and while not an excuse, the constant change of scenery certainly didn’t contribute to his scholarly pursuits.
“There’s always difference in the school systems. When I came here it was a lot harder,” Skipper-Brown said. “My study habits were definitely not where they needed to be, which just made everything tougher. I really wanted to play basketball last year, but couldn’t because of grades. I wasn’t focusing on what I needed to be focusing on. (Not playing) ended up motivating me. It was really the kick in the butt I needed.”
With the academic ship righted, Skipper-Brown turned out for football for the first time this year, lining up as a receiver on a Hawks’ team that advanced to the 2A state quarterfinals, before opening the basketball season with a dominant 18 points and 11 rebounds in River Ridge’s 78-75 win over Stadium.
“It had been such a long since I had been out there on the court,” Skipper-Brown said. “I had been waiting for that game for a while. It just felt so good to be playing again.”
In the Hawks’ 58-56 victory over Shelton, Skipper-Brown’s strong presence on the court was certainly felt in the second quarter as he came up with a vicious-looking baseline dunk and a key blocked shot late in the contest to help River Ridge come from behind against the Highclimbers.
“I don’t know if there’s a more athletic kid around than him,” Barbee said. “With his length he’s tough on both ends of the court. He has a 6-9 wingspan and he’s just super athletic. He’s a super kid. He’s really humble.
“I actually think, to be honest, that’s part of the problem. He’s such a nice kid and I think sometimes he plays like that. He can be dangerous. I want him to play a little bit meaner. I want him to have a little more of a chip on his shoulder. Once he does that, the sky’s the limit for him.”
The same can be said for River Ridge’s entire frontline.
The team has always had an abundance of lightning-quick guards who could light it up from the perimeter over the years, but with Skipper-Brown and fellow senior forwards Josh Kennedy (6-7) and Kelle Sanders (6-4) the Hawks’ roster features plenty of size this season, an aspect that has taken the team a little while to adjust to.
“You can never have enough size. Where were these guys two years ago?” Barbee said. “It’s one of those things that we have to make adjustments with though. We’re changing our style a little bit. We’re used to being quick, small and scrappy, and now we are big and athletic. It’s taken us awhile to come together. We’re half way through the season and we still haven’t figured out the combinations completely, but I think we will get there.”
And once everything does begin to fully click, Skipper-Brown will not be reduced to a spectator this time around.
“We want to win a state title. I think we have all the pieces now,” Skipper-Brown said. “I’m just glad to be back out there playing. This team really took me in when I came here. They’re my family. They’re my brothers. I’m playing for them.”