By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
By Bruce Campbell
Jeremy Espinoza won’t be lacking for motivation when he and his Northern Oklahoma College Enid Jets teammates visit Eastern Oklahoma in the second half of a women’s-men’s Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference doubleheader tonight.
Espinoza and the Jets lost to the Mountaineers three times last year — twice by two points in the regular season and a 91-86 decision in the regional finals which went down to the wire.
“We’ve got to get some revenge,’’ Espinoza said. “We felt pretty confident in the championship game, but we ran out of gas in the end.’’
The two teams currently share the OCAC lead with Connors at 3-1. NOC Enid (13-3) has won four straight, while Eastern (10-5) has won eight straight.
“We have one goal on our mind, and that’s to win the regional championship,’’ Espinoza said. “I feel like we’re a better team this year. We have a lot of weapons. Different people are stepping up.’’
No more than Espinoza, who has gone from averaging 6.1 points as a role player as a freshman to leading the Jets in both scoring (15.6) and rebounds (7.8). He is shooting 57.2 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from 3-point range and 80.4 percent from the line.
“We have been working hard in the gym,’’ Espinoza said. “My teammates are giving me good looks and I’m just executing and finishing.’’
The numbers aren’t surprising to Jets coach Greg Shamburg, who felt Espinoza was emerging as a future star in the second half of his freshman year. He averaged nearly 30 points per game at Uvalde, Texas, High School.
“I’m getting back into the old groove from high school,’’ Espinoza said. “A lot of it is just getting comfortable with my teammates and stuff. I’m taking charge more.’’
Espinoza is coming off of his three highest scoring games of the season — 27 in a 69-65 overtime win over NOC Tonkawa Monday, 24 in a 90-79 win over Cowley (Kan.) County Dec. 8 and 23 in an 81-68 win over Rhema Bible College on Saturday.
“I’m playing with a lot more confidence,’’ Espinoza said. “Coach likes us to work hard. Hard work, skills and talent go together. The competitiveness in me is beginning to come out naturally.
“A lot of it (last three games) is just being aggressive, I guess. Coach (assistant Ryan) Mahoney and Coach Shamburg tell me to be aggressive when I can and that’s what I try to do.’’
The overtime win over Tonkawa “was big for our program,’’ Espinoza said. The Jets had to refocus after the Mavericks tied the game on a 30-foot bank shot with three seconds left.
Espinoza had five points in the overtime, including a three-pointer.
“We didn’t want to lose on a shot like that,’’ Espinoza said. “We stepped up in overtime. Connor gave me a good pass (on the three-pointer) and I stepped into that shot with a good rhythm. The chemistry we have makes us better.’’
His competitiveness comes from his dad, Troy. His closeness to his dad is shown by a tattoo on his left arm saying “Troy’s Boy.’’
“My dad tells me to be great and that’s what I try to do in everything I do on and off the court,’’ he said. “I have a lot of that competitive drive.’’
He has a grade point average of 3.5. His attention to studies comes from his mother.
“She keeps telling me to do my homework,’’ Espinoza said. “That’s the type of kid I am. I listen to people and respect everybody. If you don’t pass, you don’t play.’’
Another side to him is seen by a tattoo on his other arm. He has “Jeremiah 29:11” inscribed with a Christian fish with a basketball. Espinoza went to church on a weekly basis with his mother and grandparents.
“Religion is a big part of my life,’’ he said. “I pray several times a day. I have a lot of faith. It made me what I am.’’
Shamburg never had heard of Uvalde before recruiting Espinoza. Espinoza never heard of Enid, or the school, until he was contacted by Mahoney on Facebook. Uvalde is a small town outside of San Antonio.
“Enid reminds me of Uvalde,’’ Espinoza said. “It’s worked out well here.’’
Uvalde had been known more for football (home of former Oakland Raiders safety Vann McElroy) and baseball until Espinoza.
Espinoza didn’t have any specific number goals as a sophomore, except to improve.
“I knew I had to step up my game,’’ he said. “I want to get a scholarship (to a four-year school). That pushes me to work harder.’’
He has been contacted by some Division II and NAIA schools. Espinoza said he can attract more attention from bigger schools if the Jets reach the national tournament.
“If we can get there, the offers will come,’’ he said.
He is a San Antonio Spurs fan, but his focus is on the Jets.
“I’m my own favorite player,’’ Espinoza said. “I haven’t kept up with any sports events. I don’t even know who won the national championship in football.’’
He actually is looking forward to the four-hour trip to Wilburton.
“As long as we get the W, I’m cool,’’ he said. “I don’t listen to music. I just get as much rest as I can and talk with my mom and dad about it.’’
Lady Jets eye 7 straight
The Lady Jets (11-5 and 3-1) will be going for their seventh straight win tonight. Eastern (11-4) is atop the OCAC with a 4-0 mark. The Lady Mountaineers have won four straight.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,’’ said NOC Enid coach Scott Morris. “It’s not very often we go into a game as an underdog.’’
Marisha Wallace leads the Lady Jets attack with a 19.7 average.