Cedarville's Jacob Drees has the Power of Perspective
When asked how many significant problems he has faced in his life, Cedarville University's senior Jacob Drees claims none.
He's unquestionably wrong. But he's also quite clearly right.
The "Easy" Life Of Jacob Drees
Setting: a bedroom in small town in Ohio
Event: Nerf basketball
Match-up: Jacob Drees vs. big brother Tanner
Drees recalls: "It got really competitive." Of course it did. It's Nerf basketball.
Tanner had what he thought was an open look.
Jacob soared to block it.
But the younger Drees failed to realize something important.
His leap began directly under the door frame.
"I ended up cracking my head open."
Such calamity was not uncommon in the Drees household - for Jacob. "My brother was always bigger and stronger than me; he would always beat me up," said Drees.
He took this as a message to get physically and mentally tougher.
He hoped that would help for the next challenge of trying to make the high school varsity team as a freshman. He had compete against others over 4 years older. And then there was this additional hurdle: "I was never the most athletic kid." Yeah, that might be a problem.
"However, I was always smart, skilled, and liked playing a slower game."
Well, he not only made the team, but he lettered all 4 years. Three of those years he received an All-Ohio Capital Conference selection, and twice was named team MVP. Senior year brought an All-State honorable mention after he averaged 13.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game.
He also earned four letters on the golf team - a sport he still loves playing, and beating his dad, Brian.
And that not-so athletic kid was off to play college ball at Cedarville University. There he faced some unique problems. The Yellow Jackets had five returning stars scoring over 1,000 points per season. Unfortunately, this left little time for sixth-men to see the court.
Drees developed the mindset, "I will do anything to see the court. So I would make the extra effort doing the little scrappy things, even if I was not going to score much."
Drees accepted the unusual challenge of playing all five positions through his first year. In games, he would play any position they needed, earning him the moniker "Point-forward."
The practices for the Yellow Jackets were separated by positions. "I would actually split the time I spent practicing with the guards and bigs," Drees added. "This helped elevate my game all-around early in college."
Going into his junior year the goal was to focus on the five position. So he set out on the challenge of gain some weight. By "some" he meant a whopping 30 pounds.
He also caught a bug - a very bad bug. It's called the injury bug.
A high ankle sprain had him on the bench for three weeks.
After recovering from his injury, it was not too long before he had a stress fracture in the same ankle. Sidelined again.
On top of all of that, Drees has had to battle playing on a partially torn meniscus with no cartilage in his knees for not one, but two entire years. His mom, Kelly, knowing the incredibly unnerving pain often knocked Jacob out of practices, would say a prayer before each game. And Drees would manage to power through for his team.
However, to Drees, his life "was relatively easy… there have not been many hardships for me up to this age."
So where does he get the gumption to call his life and such bodily tumult "easy"?
A glimpse of Drees's earlier journeys provides the answer.
Photo by Jack Portune - Cover photo by Scott Huck
Drees first displayed a memorable desire to place the needs of others ahead of his very early in high school when he lead "Off The Court" - a Christian event at his church with the goal of helping athletes grow their faith. According to Drees, his mom claims "this explains me in a nutshell, which is why it is a story my mom loves."
Drees also took three trips during high school to Guatemala to grow his own faith and give back to less fortunate areas. He traveled with both his youth group and his family.
Upon arrival, as he recalls: "the first thing you see is a house where people are sleeping on literal mud and dirt. Their roofs are leaves with no floors and beds."
During his stay, he connected with one of the locals, Donald. As days passed, Drees grew closer with both Donald and his brother. He came to realize that the 17 million citizens of Guatemala live below the national poverty level, making about two dollars daily.
Knowing this, Drees became committed and driven in his endeavors to help build a school, a church, and construct a well for clean water.
All was well; Drees states: "Honestly, I was making an impact on them, but they were making me change as well. I realized how big of an impact I was making on that area."
Just as the future was looking bright for Donald, his brother, and the rest of the community, a wave of melancholy filled the small town. A sudden and appalling death due to a minor contamination…
"The brother was swimming in the lake and caught a small bacterial infection. However, they could not treat it," Drees stated. "A 12-year-old lost his life to something that is not a big deal to us."
The trip to Guatemala was nothing short of eye-opening to Drees. "You see their lifestyle, and it makes you realize how much we take things for granted," he claims.
Drees walked away knowing; "there is no reason to complain about things," which makes everything he has lived through seem like nothing.
Photo by Ernest Toh
Not Being #1
Through his experience, Drees also grew the desire to continue to put others first, both on and off the court.
The first game of Sophomore year displayed the initiative and values Drees gained through Guatemala.
The starting five all had COVID, meaning the team was down most of their scoring. Drees, two freshmen, one junior, and a transfer were on the court. Three of them had never previously played for Cedarville.
Drees knew it was time to step up and take over a little in the first half. He notched 12 points and four rebounds, adding three assists. He did not score much more in the second half but added five assists and totaled just shy of a triple-double.
Following the game, his dad asked him why he did not shoot as much in the second half.
"I knew the freshman would contribute to the team's success this year. I wanted to make sure the other guys could get some confidence," Jacob told his dad.
One of the first-year students had 27 points that game, with 20 coming in the second half. "It was just something I knew we needed those guys for the rest of the year. So I wanted to ensure they had confidence going forward as a leader," Drees said. "I knew they would not have another opportunity like that with the guys coming back from COVID the following week."
Getting other younger players involved is something most would not do if they knew they were the go-to guy on the court. However, for Drees, this drew resemblance to the motto he stands by. "It is a team sport."
Drees continued, "At the end of the day, I want to see all my friends up in heaven. Doing the little things is what is important; at some point, basketball is going to end. I just want to bring others along with me in all aspects of life."
"He realizes you can accomplish a lot more through a team than an individual," his father adds. "He never worried about scoring ever; it was about developing others, having them gain confidence, which leads to winning on the court, but more importantly off the court." Drees's previous experience in Guatemala gifted him maturity that is often not seen at the collegiate level.
Drees's high school AAU coach Chris Russell also noticed his performance. He says, "Jacob has always been a very skilled basketball player; to see him now is a thing of beauty. He is big, strong, tough, and one of the best passers I have seen. He will battle against anyone, no matter how big or strong. But, perhaps, most importantly, he will compete his tail off until the final whistle blows."
Drees's pursuit of team-based success stems from a personal belief: "the game is bigger than itself. One guy can not win you games."
His physical and mental strength in his junior year won him an award: "The Elite 25" given to the player with the highest GPA in their conference tournament.
Drees was a perfect recipient for the award as he "always strives to have his GPA higher than what is expected as a leader," he said. He also took on another leadership role by tutoring his teammates in hopes of increasing their GPA.
"My biggest piece of advice is time management. Devote some time to studying. Do not be afraid to ask for help, and the grades will follow. Basketball is going to end at some point," Drees said.
Looking forward to next year, his senior year, Drees will have the responsibility of being a "player-coach." Furthermore, he will have to score a bit more. Cedarville graduated well over 6,000 points of scoring.
The additional 30 pounds means he will match up at the five and take advantage of slower opponents. "Being the four or the center, I typically have a slower guy on me. This turns into me bringing the ball up the court just because of matchup stuff," Drees comments.
The Yellow Jackets have had two camps this off-season already. "I am excited; the team dynamic feels the same," Drees said. "We are going to be able to get out and run," he added.
Cedarville is looking to make the NCAA Division-II tournament or the NCCAA National tournament.
"I have not had the opportunity to compete in the NCCAA tournament yet," Drees noted. "However, all those before me remarked it was something they are never going to forget."
The NCCAA provides schools with fun opportunities to assist others.
"If you make the tournament, you get to compete for a week and a half. On top of that, you are doing community service the whole time." Drees stated. The acts range from helping build up cities to cleaning backyards.
Drees speaks for himself and the rest of the Yellow Jackets, stating, "it is something we would all enjoy."
From a high school underdog to a strong-willed basketballer, Jacob Drees embodies how looking at the bigger picture can serve as a motivator. Sports injuries are a common reason for athletes to retire or give up, but Drees was aware of his role, his impact on others, and how basketball is more than just a game.
Says Russell: "While I cannot say enough positive things about Jacob, what I am most excited to see is the positive impact that he will continue to have on the lives of others as his college career comes to a close and to take the next step in life."
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