PREP NOTEBOOK: Honors roll in for Bittle
The good news about Nate Bittle the basketball player is he deserves every honor that comes his way, and they continue to come in waves for the Crater High standout.
The even better news about Nate Bittle the person is that he honestly couldn’t rattle off many of the honors bestowed upon him since taking the national scene by storm as a freshman.
From then to the 6-foot-11 junior’s place now as a five-star Class of 2021 recruit, Bittle’s only goal has been to simply get better each day.
Last Friday, Bittle was selected as the MaxPreps player of the year for Oregon, and likely will find his name called again Wednesday when the website rolls out its annual All-America Team.
“It’s a cool experience,” Bittle said Monday of the MaxPreps recognition. “It’s awesome, it feels great. I know I’m the state player of the year but I’m just trying to work harder so I can try to get first-team all-country.”
The 16-year-old Comet was a third-team MaxPreps All-America Team honoree last year after a dominant sophomore season and, well, did nothing to lower his status this past season after averaging 25.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.5 blocks, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals.
In his lone game at the Class 5A state tournament against South Albany, Bittle totaled 35 points, 15 rebounds and 10 blocks in 23 minutes in a 76-43 win to push Crater into the semifinals before postseason play was halted.
“That still bothers me a lot,” he said of the tournament cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think that this year with our team, I think we could’ve won the whole thing. We played really well in that last game at state and if we kept playing like that, I think we would have won the state title.”
The 10 blocks against South Albany in the state quarterfinals equaled his own all-classification state tournament record set last year against Pendleton.
“He’s just so confident and he plays so well in those big games,” said Crater boys basketball coach Chris Schmerbach of Bittle.
Already named the Midwestern League player of the year, Bittle will likely finish this season with a host of more honors when 5A all-state recognition rolls around, as well as when voting for the Gatorade and USA Today state and national lists are made known. Bittle was on the USA Today All-Oregon first team last year, and combines the unique skills of a guard in a 6-11 frame who can protect the rim as well as anyone in the nation.
“He’s just such a special player,” said Schmerbach. “He can do it all and just does a great job of staying grounded and handling all the attention that comes his way.”
What Bittle is also handling well these days is a shift in his typically chaotic spring schedule. With COVID-19 quarantines happening throughout the nation, including a stay-at-home executive order put in motion Monday by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Bittle isn’t traveling the West Coast and beyond as previously anticipated.
Instead, the oldest of three children for parents Susanne and Ryan Bittle is keeping up with his sister Kendra and brother Kyle as they all make the most of an unfortunate situation.
“It’s pretty tough,” Bittle said of putting spring basketball plans on hold, “but it also creates more time to hang out with my family more. I don’t think I saw my dad for a whole month during part of the summer last year, so it’s all about just enjoying some family bonding right now.”
Bittle, No. 10 on the 2021 ESPN 60 rankings and No. 11 on the Rivals 150 rankings, has already seen two Under Armour stops in April canceled for his West Coast Elite squad, as well as a USA Basketball camp that was set during the NCAA Final Four.
Ryan Bittle, who coordinates most of his son’s travel plans, said that it’s the family’s hope that his West Coast Elite 17U squad, led by coach Ryan Silver, will be able to compete in Las Vegas toward the end of May.
After that, the best hope for the younger Bittle to continue his growth on the court will be during the summer months as he competes with his high school as well as AAU teammates and then really tests his wares during the annual Drew League in Los Angeles, which is a semi-pro summer league that often draws current NBA players and elite college hopefuls.
“Nate played one Drew League game last year for Ryan Silver’s team when he was down there,” said Ryan Bittle. “He didn’t get a lot of time, but he did get a few minutes here and there. That was good for him to kind of get a feel for what it’s like.”
Bittle, nicknamed “The Alligator” through his summer circuit exploits, said last year’s experience in the Drew League is one he hopes to build on.
“At first I was a little starstruck,” he said, “but once I got in and everything, it was almost like a normal game. I was just playing and not worrying about people watching and all that, and not even realizing that I’m playing against pros.”
Before any of that can happen, Bittle said he’s doing his best to stay in shape by running Table Rock trails and working out in his backyard. Up to around 195 pounds through steady work on a meal plan put forth by his trainer, he also hopes to use this time away from the basketball court to add strength and work on his flexibility and general athleticism.
“I’m just doing whatever I can,” he said.
While there may be some concern over lost viewing time in front of the elite college coaches, it should not affect Bittle’s college plans. (Ryan Bittle said he’s heard the NCAA’s live viewing dates for coaches may be extended once all COVID-19 quarantines are relaxed.)
Nate Bittle has already received offers from just about every Pac-12 Conference school, along with the likes of Gonzaga, and from programs as far away as Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Virginia and Louisville have also shown interest.
Each keeps in regular contact with Bittle, whose home mailbox and cell phone in-box are seemingly always full.
The original family plan to see the entire process through — with more official school visits to come — remains in place, and Bittle continues to be open to any opportunity so long as it fits his comfort level and style of play.
As far as his high school plans go, the opportunity to claim Crater’s first state championship in program history slipped out of his grasp this year and there’s no denying the Comets don’t want to see Bittle’s career close without at least one blue state trophy.
“Next year is an important one for him, for me and for our program,” said Schmerbach. “We’ve got to go in there again with those high expectations, but there will be a little bit more urgency within our program to put our best foot forward. We’ve got to take care of business, for sure. They’re really hungry for it already, there’s some unfinished business left for all of us.”
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