Years of sharing the court together from a young age brings about a special bond when athletes spend months together at practices, tournaments on the road and a lengthy regular season schedule.
Now in their final weeks of their senior basketball season, this chapter which has formed an incredible bond between the four is rapidly coming to a close.
Seniors A.J. Yeaman, Jake Halquist, Cooper Gamble and Kyle Gibb were given the opportunity to celebrate as brothers on the court last weekend as they walked out as starters on senior night as they played host to Thermopolis.
“It felt like old times,” Gibb said. “We’ve played together since the sixth grade and it still feels like nothing has really changed. It was by far the (most fun) game of the season.”
Head coach Chase Plumb wanted to make the night one to remember for his seniors.
“It just felt right to start all the seniors,” Plumb said. “We haven’t done that all year but they came in and from the opening tip you could tell they had a little extra emotion.”
That emotion fueled them to lead the Bearcats to their biggest win of the season, defeating the Thermopolis Bobcats 63-44, getting revenge for the 46-43 loss they suffered at the hands of Thermopolis earlier in the season.
Despite the coach’s worries that the pregame ceremonies would mess up the preparations for the game, the team was even more dominant than the final score indicates. They were up 30 points heading into the final quarter, and pulled most of their starters midway through the fourth to a tune of a standing ovation.
“(The atmosphere) definitely had a big role in it,” Yeaman said. “I think all of us seniors just wanted to leave everything we had on the court since it was our last time playing in front of a home crowd.”
Asked the same question, all four gave almost the exact same answer. Winning on their home court one last time was the motivation that powered them to their best performances.
Yeaman, Gibb and Gamble led the team in scoring with 16,12 and 10 points, respectively with Halquist playing high energy defense and making the right passes to keep the offense moving all game.
The energy and will to win trickled down from the seniors throughout the rest of the locker room.
Every player that touched the court maintained the level of intensity until the game was out of reach.
“We as a team wanted them to go out with a bang,” sophomore Kyle Igo said. “It wasn’t just our starters, everyone was into the game. Someone would get a steal and push it down court and find an open shooter who would hit a three.”
The quartet has inspired loyalty and respect of the players underneath them and the coaches.
Yeaman is the silent type who leads by example. The difference between how the team played during the first eight games when he was out with an injury and how they played when he came back is very noticeable.
“He’s been our, ‘do whatever it takes,’ kind of guy,” Plumb said. “He’s not always the most vocal guy on the team but he will do whatever it takes to win. He’s always the hardest working guy on the floor. He came up to me after the game and told me ‘thank you for bringing my love for basketball back,’ I really appreciated that moment.”
Halquist brings energy and responsibility to the program. He makes sure Plumb reminds of early morning shootarounds and gets the team energized before games.
“He’s a great leader because of everything he does on and off the floor,” Plumb said. “He’s always out there giving everything he has and kids appreciate that in him.”
Gibb is the ultimate team player who doesn’t care how he helps the team, as long as he’s doing exactly what he needs to do to get the win.
“When I told him earlier in the year he wasn’t going to start he said, ‘whatever is best for the team coach,’ and that pretty much sums up Gibb. He doesn’t care about stats, awards or starting, he just cares about what’s best for the team.”
Finally, Gamble is the one who keeps the team in good spirits, while seeing the game better than anyone. He missed all of his junior season with a bad back, but still made it to every practice in a team manager role. Since coming back this year he has been a spark plug off the bench and one of the best shooters.
“That shows his commitment to the team,” coach said. “He could have spent last year doing something else, but he wanted to be around the guys and help however he could. It was great for him to come back this year, and especially for him to score 10 points on senior night. It was a special moment for him.”
The moments the senior boys cherish most are the ones in-between games. The countless joke-filled bus rides were a consistent theme in the memories each recalled.
“I have so many memories it’s tough to narrow it down but it’s been great to have those guys as some of best friends on and off the court,” Halquist said. “One that sticks out the most was getting stuck in a hotel in the Casper on the way back after the conference tourney. I think our best memories are coming up in regionals and states.”
The team has beat or held their own with every team in their region, and has the talent to turn heads if they can put it all together and make it to states.
They traveled to Rawlins this evening and finish their regular season schedule in Newcastle at 5:30 p.m. this Friday.