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Article Published February 20, 2020

Grow Helping Valley Expand its Expectations

By Chris Negrini/

Jake Grow is playing a heavy hand in building the current edition of the Valley Regional boys’ basketball team. The Warriors are a senior-laden squad, and Jake is part of a cast of seniors who have been playing together since elementary school. Valley is in the midst of a 14-game win streak and one of the top teams in the Shoreline Conference this season. Jake and his teammates are champing at the bit for a state tourney run for the ages and working relentlessly to make it happen.

Jake and his eight fellow seniors have been playing organized basketball together for nearly a decade dating back to their first travel team. Jake, a small forward, believes that continuity has a lot to do with the Warriors’ 15-3 record.

“It all started with Valley Travel Basketball in 4th grade. We have nine seniors, and we’ve all been playing together since then. That’s why we’re really starting to click,” says Jake, who lives in Deep River. “Most of these players went to Deep River Elementary. We would go out for recess and play basketball for every single minute of recess until we were forced to go inside. Once we had a travel team, we were all like, ‘Let’s do this.’”

Jake feels that it’s his responsibility to help younger players like freshman Jeremy Arnum. Jake knows that if he lends a hand to his teammates, he increases his chances of reaching his own goals.

“I’m always out there looking out for the younger kids, because I was looked out for by the seniors when I was a freshman,” Jake says. “When I need a breather, Jeremy Arnum goes in for me, and I always keep him positive. He’s got a really bright future. He’s crazy good. That’s the best part about our team. We’re so deep that we can put anyone in and not miss a beat.”

One of the reasons why no one misses a beat is because Jake and his teammates hold themselves accountable. Jake has a close relationship with senior captain point guard Cade Ensinger. Jake believes that being around each other has improved their games greatly.

“I’ve been playing with Cade since we were best friends in preschool. We grind at each other. We work until we make each other better,” says Jake. “If one of us makes a mistake, another one of us picks them back up. You just get better playing with this team every single game.”

Jake considers himself an offensive player first and foremost on the court. Jake features several tools in his arsenal that help him get the ball to the bucket, whether that means driving into the paint, shooting the ball, or passing it off to someone with a better look.

“I pretty heavily lean toward offense as a player. If the lane is open, I love to drive, but I’ll take the three, too. Last game, I wasn’t missing, so I kept shooting it,” says Jake, who made six 3-pointers against Coginchaug on Feb. 14. “It really depends. If I’m at the top of the key with the ball in my hands and there’s a weaker defender on me, I will put on some dribble moves to get to the rim. I’m not the main ball-handler, but I can if the team needs it.”

While Jake has typically been an offensive-minded player, he’s taken his defense up a notch this season. Jake has put in plenty of time with Valley Head Coach Kevin Woods to get better at slowing down the opposition’s attack on the perimeter.

“When I started the year, my defense wasn’t that good, but Coach Woods has helped me become a better player in that regard. It’s usually pretty easy to guard a big, but I don’t mind guarding a perimeter player,” Jake says. “The last two years, I’ve had trouble moving my feet, and they were getting by me. I just thought enough was enough. I grinded, practiced, and started moving my feet and, this year, it’s gotten better. It’s all thanks to Coach Woods.”

Woods loves to see the effort that Jake constantly puts into his craft. Woods is especially impressed with how much Jake has improved on defense as a result of his commitment this season.

“Jake has always been a good offensive player. I think that Jake could easily average 20-plus points a game if he were a selfish player, but he cares more about winning. If he scores 30 to get us a win or scores two to get us a win, it doesn’t matter to him,” says Woods. “Jake works on his whole game all the time, and we’ve put a lot of time into the defensive end of things. The better he plays defensively, it keeps him engaged in all aspects of the game. He’s definitely a weapon for us.”

Jake has his eye on the prize in his final season at Valley Regional. The Warriors’ senior class is determined to win a state championship this year. Jake knows that Valley has what it takes, and that’s because each one of the team’s seniors has been planning for this moment all the way back to their days at Deep River Elementary.

“I’m just working toward that state championship. Nothing will make me prouder than winning that,” Jake says. “We’re just working at it. We know we’re going to go get it. I know my teammates are going to bring it. So as long as I bring it, they’re going to be there.”