NORTH LITTLE ROCK - When you are 7-2, you are naturally going to draw attention no matter where you go.
But when you are a 7-2 freshman on the basketball court, all eyes are going to turn your way - especially those of college coaches.
That’s the case with 15-year-old Arkansas Baptist standout Connor Vanover, who had a season-high 21 points in his team’s 66-58 loss to El Dorado Saturday in the Holiday Hoops Challenge.
Razorback assistant coach Melvin Watkins was on hand to see Vanover, one of only 62 players invited to the USA Junior Olympic Development Camp in October in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“I would really liked to have won the game, but I am really happy about the way we fought back and how we keep improving. I feel like I am getting a lot better, too.”
It was a far cry from his two points in the Eagles’ 69-41 loss to Arkansas signee Jimmy Whitt’s Columbia, Mo., Hickman team on Nov. 29 in the ESPN 99.5 Classic in Bentonville.
Whitt had 42 points, 10 rebounds, 6 steals and 3 assists in that game as his Kewpies jumped out to a 23-0 lead.
“I think it being one of the first varsity games I had ever played, I was nervous,” said Vanover, averaging around 12 points per game. “But now that I have been playing more games I am getting more comfortable.”
Arkansas Baptist head coach Brian Ross, whose team also Connor’s older brother - 6-11 junior Brandon Vanover - said that nervousness was a team-wide thing.
“I think that is all in was in that one game was nerves,” Ross said. “It was a big stage and they all were a little bit nervous. I told them all ‘hey, I am going to continue putting you in these type stage games so those nerves go away.
“He (Connor Vanover) came out comfortable from the get-go and his brother had 15 points, he had 21 points and my guards played a lot better,” Ross added. “They are all just getting a lot more comfortable playing against great teams and El Dorado is a great team. I am happy we stayed with them. I wish we could have won, but the kids are going in the right direction.”
Arkansas Baptist is now 4-5 this season, but Ross thinks that record will look good down the line.
“What I told them in the locker room was that I doubt there was that I doubt there is very many teams in the whole state that have come as far as they have in a month,” Ross said.
“We don’t have any seniors so we were a little bit inexperienced and we have played a very tough schedule and these guys just keep responding to every single challenge thrown to them,” Ross said.
“We are 4-5, but we have played probably 8 really close and really tough games, so we are battle-tested and I think we are going in the right direction and going to end up in a really good spot.”
The younger Vanover, who played against an Arkansas Wings teammate in 6-10 sophomore Daniel Gaffords, enjoys having his older brother on the floor with him.
“He makes a lot of shots down low and he is really good at that,” Vanover said. “If he gets double- or triple-teamed he can kick it out or I can slash to the basket and get an easy bucket.”
Ross knows he will have a size advantage in each game.
“He (Connor Vanover) is a hard match-up because he can shoot from the outside, but I think the biggest spot those guys are match-up problems is that it is hard to score on us in the paint,” Ross said.
“Those are some long arms that everybody is having to shoot over,” Ross added. “We have had very few points scored in the paint on us all year.
“And then when you have two of them,” Ross continued. “El Dorado had one big, but he had to pick one to guard and the other was going to have a mismatch. They are doing a really good job of playing off each other and feeding each other. They can both score.”
The Vanovers and their parents recently took an unofficial visit to Arkansas to check out head coach Mike Anderson’s program.
“It went well,” Vanover said. “I like Coach Anderson and I like the program they have up there. It seems like a good program and I could certainly see myself playing there one day. It’s a possibility.”
Vanover is obviously far from a finished project, but also has a lot of time to continue to improve.
“I still need to work on still getting stronger and I am getting better at that,” Vanover said. “I am getting in the post more. I do need to put the ball on the floor more.”
Vanover's Improvement Is Evident
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