By Clayton Sauertieg
New Castle News
Nate Meeks is not your average freshman basketball player.
The 5-foot-11 guard for Union High is not only playing varsity in ninth grade, he’s playing well and playing often.
His 12-point performance in Union’s first-round WPIAL playoff win over Winchester Thurston earned him Lawrence County’s high school Athlete of the Week award. The honor is sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.
The students at Union know just how good he is already, too, loudly chanting “he’s a freshman” after Meeks knocks down a three or gets a layup to drop.
“Nate is an extremely hard worker, he puts a lot of time into the game. So it’s not surprising he’s doing this,” Union coach Mark Stanley said. “He’s mature, he gets in the gym in the summer and works hard. There’s no magic formula, he’s a hard worker.”
Meeks made an immediate impact for the Scotties this season, scoring 15 points in the first game of the year, a 58-45 home win over Freeport.
“He came out of the gate firing,” Stanley said. “One thing he does is play hard every time. In the eighth-grade championship game last year, we were watching and one of my assistants pointed out that he sprints back every time. He’s always working”
Meeks, who’s averaging 6.7 points per game and hitting 1.3 3-pointers per contest, says he didn’t anticipate all the early success.
“It’s been kind of surreal,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be doing as well as I have been. I thought maybe I’d play a couple minutes a game on varsity.”
His 30 3-pointers this season place him third on the team, while his smooth shooting stroke is important for a Scotties offense predicated on floor spacing.
“He gets his shot off quick and as a defender you’ve gotta locate him,” Stanley said of how he helps the offense. “It definitely helps space the floor and opens up lanes for his teammates and if he’s open they’ll find him. His teammates are confident in him, too, which I think helps a lot.”
Possibly Meeks’ greatest contribution of the season came in the Scotties’ most important game yet. With Union holding a slight lead over Winchester Thurston in the first round of playoffs at Northgate High, Meeks hit three important 3-pointers in the second quarter to spark the Scotties’ offense and help the team pull away.
“I was a little nervous before the game, but I don’t typically get nervous,” Meeks said. “After those shots went down, I felt like we got in a groove, I got in a groove. We were definitely more comfortable after that.”
For Stanley’s club to continue its run through the playoffs, it likely will need Meeks to continue to step up.
“He’s become a really important piece for us,” Stanley said. “Everybody needs to play well, but if Nate can keep knocking down shots, it definitely improves our chances of winning games.”
Meeks says he knows he’ll be expected to continue to contribute and that he’s up for the challenge.
“It feels like a big game,” he said of Union’s second-round matchup with Clairton. “But I’m just going to go out and keep doing what I’ve been doing and keeping working to get better.”