DAYTON — Last year at this time, Dantez Walton and Tre Cobbs, senior teammates on Lima Central Catholic’s basketball team, were preparing to embark on a school history setting tournament run that would see the duo lead the Thunderbirds to their second state title in three years.
Fast forward to this year. The two standout high school players are still teammates but now with Northern Kentucky University. The two still share the same enthusiasm for winning basketball but with different roles at this point in their freshman year.
For Walton, the 2016 Ohio Division III Associated Press player of the year, appears to be adjusting to life at the Division I level a little easier. In the early half of this year, Walton’s minutes were sporadic but in game 15 on Jan. 27 against the University of Illinois at Chicago, the LCC grad saw 18 minutes of play and since that time has averaged 17 minutes a game and 8.6 points a game.
In that stretch, Walton showed why he is gaining more and more time on the hardwood in the game against Wright State on Feb. 4 when he put up 12 points by going 4 of 7 from the floor and hitting two 3-pointers. He also grabbed five rebounds and was instrumental in helping the Norse secure a win over the Raiders.
“I just got out here and got a chance to show my team what I am capable of doing,” said Walton after the Wright State game. “Stepping up in the second half was a huge thing. I made a lot of mistakes but we got the win and it is going to be something we are going to enjoy.”
Walton admits he is still making the transition from being the biggest man on the court to being surrounded by a number of big men. He also misses playing in front of family and friends.
“The transition in general has been hard coming from high school to the college level,” Walton said. “I believe I have gotten better individually and also feel good about stepping in and putting my team in a better position to win.”
For Cobbs, the transition has not gone as smooth. He has seen limited action and spent most of his time on the bench learning and being a consummate team player. He has not seen action on the court since Jan. 4 against Youngstown State.
“I’m excited,” Cobbs said. “We are getting wins. It’s not about me and I am going to have to wait my turn.”
Cobbs admits that the early going has been rough but he adds that some of his limited playing time is self-inflicted and he adds that he has rededicated himself to helping the team secure wins.
“Accepting my role,” said Cobbs when asked about what has been the toughest adjustments he has had to make this year. “At the beginning of the year I had a rough time accepting my role and dug myself a hole and I am still trying to dig out but as long as we are winning I am satisfied.”
Hard work and dedication continue to be a staple of Cobbs’ regiment and he said he has to be ready to go when he is called to play.
Walton and Cobbs both said that having each other as teammates has been a benefit and they still count on each other to get them through this early transition period.
“Just coming into the game and knowing you have your brother by your side is a positive thing,” Walton said.
Second year head coach John Brannen said both of these players are a great addition to NKU and sees a bright future for the two talents.
“Dantez’s consistency level in practice has never waivered,” Brannen said. “From the beginning of the season to now. And now he is starting to get an opportunity and that is because of his consistency.”
Brannen added that Walton is a smart individual who can handle multiple positions, something he said is a rarity for a freshman.
“He is playing too because he has that high of a basketball IQ,” Brannen said. “He just has to continue to get better defensively and become the best defender he can be and continue understanding our system. He is light years away from what I anticipated.”
For Cobbs, Brannen said he had some ups and downs early but is also working hard to become a contributing player in the future.
“The only thing I guarantee incoming freshmen, other than I will love them, is that they will go through adversity and Tre has gone through adversity. But he has bounced back and his last three weeks have been outstanding. He is a dynamic talent who can be as good as we wants to be.”
Brannen said having these two top recruits is a testament to the basketball being played in Northwest Ohio and praised LCC coach Frank Kill and Lima Senior counterpart Quincey Simpson for what they are accomplishing.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on Twitter @JoseNogueras1