Kody Belcher has a picture in his room that shows him winning an opening tip-off in a middle school basketball game.
Normally, winning a tip would not be considered a notable performance, except that he was 5-foot-9 at the time and the player opposite him was 6-5.
"I was actually very surprised then," said Belcher, a senior at Lakeside High School. "Now, I don't think of it much. I just try to get it."
Belcher has continued his game-starting theatrics this season. At just under 5-11, he started the season by winning the opening tip in eight consecutive games.
Most of the time, it has come against a player with a significant height advantage, considering most teams send their tallest player out to the circle.
"It's good momentum to get that tip and kind of surprise them," said Belcher, whose streak came to an end Dec. 14 against Westside. "I mean, it's always fun to beat someone a lot taller than me. I've heard there are a bunch of funny faces. I've heard stories about the faces they've made."
Belcher wouldn't even be taking the tips for the Panthers if not for the loss of Vergil King this summer.
Lakeside lost potentially its best player when King died in October. He collapsed after a pick-up basketball game at the Wilson Branch of The Family Y.
In addition, a pair of tall post players Lakeside coach John Kucela expected to have aren't on the roster.
Charles Folger transferred to Lincoln County High School, and Mark Weidenaar, a quarterback for the Panthers, suffered an ACL injury before the start of football season.
Thus, Kucela held a sort of open tryout in early practice to see who would take the tip-off. Belcher dominated that competition.
Kucela said there are numerous benefits to winning the opening tip. He said for home games it gets the crowd into the game right away, especially in Belcher's case. It also gets his teammates fired up. Plus, an early lead can provide a big lift.
"Out of the ones he's won, we've scored on at least half of them," Kucela said. "It has set the tone for a few games."
Kucela noted that Belcher's athleticism also translates to the defensive end of the floor. It allows the Panthers to press on defense because, if they don't get a steal, his instincts and quickness produce steals on outlet passes.
Basketball isn't Belcher's primary sport. He uses his athleticism while patrolling center field for Lakeside.
He has signed to play baseball next fall at Kennesaw (Ga.) State University and likely will be drafted in the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in June.
On the court, Belcher is a role player who plays solid defense and, most of the time, provides excitement at the start of the game.
"Obviously, I don't win them all," he said. "I really don't look at how tall they are. I just see the ball and I try to get it."
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