Those who watched Chris Commons in high school at Central Catholic might not recognize the versatile athlete who has helped lead the University of Findlay men's basketball team to 27 wins and the nation's No. 1 ranking in Division II.
The kid who was strictly an inside player with less than a rock-solid physique is now a 6-7 1/2 multi-dimensional threat who can still post up but has added the skills that allow him to attack off the dribble or knock 'em dead from beyond the 3-point line.
"He's still developing physically," Findlay coach Ron Niekamp said of Commons. "But there's no more of that baby fat he had in high school. He has become a very skilled offensive player who creates a lot of inside-outside match-up problems for defenses."
Commons admits he "wasn't in the best shape in high school. Then, with what I was asked to do in our offense, it was enough to just be big and score. It was easy.
"In college, though, everybody you play with and against was the best player in high school. So I had to shed some pounds, I had to lift a lot of weights to get stronger, and I had to do running drills to help with agility. Plus, I've worked really hard on my jump shot the last couple summers."
It has all paid big dividends. Commons is shooting 60 per cent from the field, including a 48.8 mark from 3-point range, and he leads the Oilers with a 15.9-point scoring average.
His team, in turn, also has achieved at a high level. The 27-3 Oilers just won their second straight Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament title, beating three foes by an average of 19 points, and will host this weekend's eight-team NCAA Division II Great Lakes Regional.
The Oilers, who have won 23 straight games in the friendly confines of Croy Gymnasium, open their regional bid against Quincy (Ill.) University tonight at 6.
It has been a big season for a team that lost one of its best players, Frank Phillips, to a torn knee ligament suffered last summer. It cost Findlay the services of a 6-4 wing player who scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in last season's league title game.
"There's no question Frank was one of our best players, but I knew that if we approached it as a team we could still accomplish a lot," Commons said. "I took it upon myself, and other guys took it upon themselves, to step up and make some good things happen."
Commons, a sophomore, is one of four Oilers who average in double figures, joining junior point guard Dustin Pfeifer (12.7 points and 4.9 assists per game), senior Tyler McGlaughlin from Ottawa-Glandorf (11.5 points) and senior Matt Metzger from Fort Jennings (10.2 points). Senior Marwan Gaines adds 8.3 points and leads the Oilers with an average of 6.8 rebounds per game.
"One of our fans told me the other night that, in the case of our team, the whole is truly the sum of the parts," Niekamp said. "That's a good description. These are good players who, together, have become a very, very good team."
Niekamp has recorded 20 consecutive winning seasons at Findlay's helm and the Oilers' next win will be his 430th, matching his predecessor, Jim Houdeshell, for the most coaching victories in school history.
He knows that win, and any others this weekend, won't come easily because the nation's No. 1 ranking "means everybody will be giving us their best shot. I don't think it will be a factor, though, unless we get too full of ourselves."
Commons doesn't expect that to happen.
"Winning the [GLIAC] South Division was our first goal and the next was winning the conference tournament," he said. "The next goal is to win the regional. We worked hard all season to be able to host the regional, so we don't want to waste this opportunity."
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