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Beat goes on for Crater star Bittle

CENTRAL POINT — Standing 6-foot-10, there are very few times when Crater sophomore Nate Bittle comes up short.

When he does, though, rest assured his intent is to do all he can to never let it happen again.

Bittle, who turned 16 this past Monday, was the final player cut last week for a 12-member USA Basketball squad that has since traveled to Brazil and is currently competing in the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.

That came after an intense three-camp experience that gathered the nation’s top U16 players, with cuts made after camps in Colorado and Minnesota before finalizing the team May 29 in Florida.

“It was a great experience just being able to go play with the other best players in the country in my age group and just compete and fight for spots,” said Bittle. “It was good.”

Being as competitive as he is, finding his name off the final roster wasn’t a good feeling, but one that Bittle said he will use as motivation moving forward.

“It kind of sucked but next year I’ve just got to come back better,” said Bittle. “I know what I have to work on back home so I’ve just got to get stronger and faster for next year.”

“It just gives me motivation to come back and make the team next year,” he added. “Being the last person cut was a little weird. I just want to come back home, get a lot better and go back and show them the new me.”

It’s not that Bittle needed the motivation; he was prepared to work hard on his game this offseason anyway.

And it’s also not like Bittle is far off; we are talking about the best of the best in the nation.

As it is, Bittle is ranked No. 13 in the ESPN 60 for the Class of 2021, and is the No. 2 center. He’s currently No. 15 in the Rivals rankings for his class as a power forward after reaching as high as No. 12.

With an uncanny shooting touch from 3-point range, guard-like skills when it comes to dribbling and passing for a player his size and a knack for blocking shots, Bittle has the wide-ranging tools that have made him one of the most sought after sophomores in the country. He holds offers from just about every Pac-12 Conference school, as well as the likes of Gonzaga, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.

“There’s lots of different playing styles so I just want to find a school that will fit my style of play,” said Bittle of his college options.

Interest in the multi-faceted player also continues to grow across the country as more scouts and college coaches get to see him in action.

“It’s early in the process so I’m still kind of getting used to it,” he said. “College coaches can start calling me June 15, so the phone’s going to be ringing.”

“It’s going to be a lot different than me having to call them,” he added. “I feel like they’ll try to talk to me a little bit more often and stuff like that, so I can’t wait.”

The feedback he got while competing with USA Basketball was overwhelmingly positive for his basketball IQ and aforementioned abilities.

“Some of the feedback on things he needs to work on is just being more physical and more consistent in his ability to score in the paint,” said Crater boys basketball coach Chris Schmerbach. “We don’t ever want him to lose his ability to stretch the floor with the outside shot because that’s something that he has that not a lot of bigger kids have, but just to continue to find areas in his game that he can build on and make better. The more things he can do the better he’s going to be.”

Schmerbach said the plan is to work this offseason on creating more comfortability in the low post for Bittle, as well as allow him to slow the game down when he’s on the block to make the appropriate decisions.

“With his size and length, he should be able to get any shot that he wants,” said Schmerbach. “To be able to have that mentality and read the defense is kind of the next step in his development that he’s looking to, and we’re looking to kind of help build for him.”

A lot of that work comes with Bittle squaring off with his father Ryan, who is a couple inches shorter but played collegiately and has the strength to pose a challenge in the post.

Bittle has also already put in a lot of time and effort to help bulk up his 185-pound frame, working three days a week with personal trainer Matthew Conboy.

Since his Crater basketball team placed fourth in the Class 5A state championships, Bittle said he’s also probably been home “three or four weekends” as he travels the United States either in elite camps or competing with his Under Armour Association Circuit team West Coast Elite So Ca 17U, where he’s playing up a level.

This week, he also learned he was selected for the National Basketball Players Association Top 100 camp June 11-16 in Virginia, where he will again compete against the nation’s best incoming seniors, juniors and sophomores. That camp allows for a two-day live viewing period for college coaches as well as NBA scouts.

“I’m excited,” Bittle said of his next opportunity. “It’s kind of going to be like the USA camps, going up against more of the best players, so it’s good.”

While some may be inclined to wilt under such scrutiny at elite gatherings, Bittle said he simply takes it all in stride.

“It’s cool to have a bunch of people come to your games and watch you,” he said. “Say you’re playing somebody else that’s like one of the best players, you’ve got a lot of people coming to watch you guys battle so you’ve kind of just got to show out. I like playing in front of crowds. It’s a lot louder so the crowd can feed into the game.”

Playing his game and holding his own is Bittle’s main strategy. He’s never trying to go against the grain to make it all about himself when those matchups do arise.

“I just try to compete and do the best I can to help my team get a win,” he said.

And even though the crowds may make it more fun, Bittle said he tunes out any potential pressures and always takes a relaxed attitude into each outing.

“I don’t ever really get nervous or anything,” he said. “I just know that I’ll go out and try to play the way that I play so it doesn’t affect me.”

When Bittle returns from Virginia, he will join his Crater teammates at the Section 7 Scholastic DI Camp on June 21-23 in Phoenix, Arizona.

After that, his summer will include more competition with his West Coast Elite squad, which has already played in Missouri, New Jersey and Illinois and will play in Georgia to reach the finals in July, and another USA Basketball camp in July. The month of August, however, has been reserved for some much-anticipated down time for Bittle to relax and just be a kid.

“The great thing about it is all these opportunities are just great learning experiences for him,” said Schmerbach. “Even though he didn’t make the USA Basketball team, he spent a few weeks with some of the best coaches that are in the country. That’s been great. The cool thing about Nate is he’s getting a lot of different experiences and being open to that, he’s going to be able to really help his game improve.”

Some of that has already come to roost, with Bittle adding a new weapon to his offensive arsenal in recent months.

“Another cool thing about Nate is it doesn’t take him long to pick things up,” said Schmerbach. “He can take something you show him and he can get it in the game pretty quickly. His jump hook the last couple weeks has really been impressive. He’s starting to gain range on that and it’s something that he’s picked up and gotten into the games. A 6-10 kid that can shoot a jump hook? That’s like a shot that there’s nothing you can do about it; it’s unguardable.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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