By Ron Rop
MUSKEGON – Jacob Ray has been marching to the beat of the same drummer for four years at Western Michigan Christian High School.
As a ninth-grader on the freshman basketball team, Ray played for Coach Kyle Mastenbrook. The following season, both Ray and Mastenbrook were elevated to the varsity level, one as a shooting guard and the other as the head coach.
“I hope he’s not getting sick of me,” said Mastenbrook, laughingly. “I know a lot of times he’s hearing the same stuff from me, but that’s good. It’s sinking in to him and he’s able to be a coach on the floor.”
Obviously, something is working for the Warriors, who are in a position to win a second-straight River Valley Conference title. The Warriors travel to Covenant Christian on Feb. 27 with a chance to win the title outright.
WMC and Covenant currently have one loss in league play with Covenant having to play Grand River Prep prior to the showdown with the Warriors.
Last year, it was the inside game of Bernard Smith that carried the Warriors. This year is a bit different with any number of players scoring, pulling down rebounds and dishing out assists.
“Our whole team strategy is much different,” said Ray, a 6-foot-5 senior. “We are much more free flowing and we are running the court. The ball is moving, we try to move the ball quickly from player to player. It’s fun.”
Ray’s numbers aren’t gaudy, by any means, but on any given night he can score in double figures, pull down double figure rebounds or lead the team in assists. He’s averaging 13.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
“I play mostly the two guard, but I’ve gone into the post at times,” Ray said. “It just depends on who is guarding me. We’re looking for a mismatch. Either I have a quickness mismatch or I can shoot over somebody. It’s whatever is open.”
Ray is a three-sport standout at WMC. He played sweeper on the soccer team last fall, and anticipates an enjoyable and successful season in track this spring.
“I took my junior year off soccer so I could lift and gain some weight,” Ray said. “There were a lot of guys who wanted me to come back. I just love my class and love playing with them, but it was my decision to play again. I loved every minute of it.”
But basketball is his first love, and he would love nothing more than to take his skills to the college hardcourt next season. There have been some schools poking around and Ray has it narrowed down to about three. He said a decision could come in the next month.
The son of Rick and Lori Ray isn’t just into sports. There’s much more going on in his life.
“During basketball season, you don’t have a ton of time,” Ray said. “But what I like to do most … we’ve been doing some awesome stuff with our youth group (at New Era Reformed Church).
“I have been setting up worship and worship nights and I just like playing the guitar and leading worship. That is one of the things I have a passion for. It’s been awesome to do.”
But in the meantime, Ray and his teammates are focusing on a River Valley title and a strong run in the upcoming Class C state tournament.
“We just have to keep playing hard,” Ray said. “Playing as one unit together is huge and just being strong.”
“It has been a lot of fun getting to know him and coaching him,” Mastenbrook said. “This group of seniors is really great to coach. They are leaders on the floor and they’re working hard, but I also think they are promoting a positive culture in the school and in our program.”