INWOOD, W.Va. — Musselman senior center Jake Stephens has been fine-tuning his game after signing with VMI back in the fall.
With a four-inch growth spurt over the past year or so, Stephens entered this season with the Applemen at 6-foot-9, 230 pounds.
“It was a big summer,” Stephens said. “This year I’ve been more of an inside player and this team has relied on me more for scoring. I’ve got to be consistent with that and I’ve been more inside (the lane) than before.”
Stephens last year averaged 13.2 points per game, 10.4 rebounds and shot 36 percent from beyond the arc.
He announced in October that he had received an offer from — and committed to — VMI, signing with the Keydets in November.
“When I went down there for my visit, I just knew, with the way those guys were treated at the school and how their life will be set afterwards,” Stephens said. “It was something I didn’t think I could pass up on.
“On top of that, you get the chance to play college basketball and have a shot at the NCAA tournament,” he continued. “That’s been one of my dreams forever and that’s what I wanted.”
There’s already a West Virginia connection on VMI’s roster as former Parkersburg South standout Garrett Gilkeson is playing in his sophomore season.
“I was paired with him on my visit,” Stephens said of Gilkeson. “My freshman year, we actually played against Parkersburg South in the state tournament and they knocked us out – so we had a little history there.
“I got to be with him that weekend (the visit to VMI) and it was cool,” he continued. “He answered a lot of my questions and he was a really good guy.”
The combination of Stephens’ overall size and scoring threat from beyond the arc made his game appealing to the VMI coaching staff.
“One of the big things they told me they liked was my ability to shoot and then be able to go inside, do a pick-and-roll, all of that good stuff,” he said. “They want me to keep getting quicker and stronger.
“Defensively, I’ve been working on hedging screens,” he continued. “Overall, I had a good feel from the coaching staff in that they liked where I was at and I thought it was a good fit.”
Musselman, meanwhile, won a school record 21 games a season ago and made a third straight state tournament appearance.
“We’re a young team and we’re growing each day, trying to get better,” Stephens said. “Hopefully in March we will make our run – that’s the goal.”