Standing at 6-foot-5, Justin Becker is hard to miss on the basketball court.
Especially considering he hasn’t even had his first day as a high school student yet.
The rising freshman at Robertson County has been hitting the hardwood and drawing attention on the summer circuit, after helping the Black Devils find success as a middle schooler.
“This kid is a gym rat,” said Robertson County coach Patrick Kelsch. “He’s played with Royal Legends, he’s played with Team RC, he plays with the high school team – he’s probably played 40, 50 games this summer and we probably have 10 more.”
Royal Legends – now called SBA Hoops, according to Becker – is based out of Mason County and coached by former University of Pikeville player Adam Reed. The team has traveled to places like Louisville and Lexington to face top competition.
“It helps a lot actually. Playing against good players like Brady Dingess – I played with him – it just gets me prepared for what’s going to happen when I play better people.”
Dingess is considered one of the top players in his class in the state. He averaged 19 points per game as an eighth grader with Sheldon Clark last season. They were both at the Coast 2 Coast Preps and Camp One 2018 Midwest Spotlight in Cincinnati this past weekend.
Becker drew attention from several youth basketball promotional websites, including Next Up Recruits and Coast 2 Coast Preps. He was one of five players named to the Coast 2 Coast Preps Class of 2022 All Camp Team. The organization had a post Monday on their Twitter account, which has over 15,000 followers, with the following statement regarding Becker:
“Very impressed with 2022 Justin Becker this weekend at the Midwest Spotlight. Runs the floor, rebounds well makes great outlet passes full court, can score at rim with great footwork and nice jumper. He is 6’4 now, if he gets to 6’8-9 will be a High major PF.”
While only just finishing up his eighth grade season, the exposure from playing at these events has helped get his name out to college coaches that are hoping to see him live. He’s listed sixth on the Kentucky Class of 2022 watch list on bigshots.net, which has a Twitter following of close to 30,000 people. He’s also listed on the watch list for Next Up Recruits and is 12th in the KySports.TV Kentucky Class of 2022 rankings.
“I’m not going to mention any names, but they’ve asked where he’s going to be at this summer. They don’t necessarily want game film from seventh grade. They want to see him live,” said Kelsch. “The good thing is he’s only a freshman and they already know his name.
“I’ll be honest – without putting anyone down, I’d like to see 11 other eighth graders as good as Justin,” added Kelsch.
With his height, Becker would typically be playing in the post at the high school level, but has shown the skills to also play on the perimeter, according to Kelsch. He averaged 9.6 points and 4.2 rebounds on last year’s Robertson County team that won 20 games.
Becker says he’s been working on a variety of things to help his game this summer.
“I’ve been working on really everything – defense, getting faster, my pull up jumper, my ball handling, passing,” said Becker. “I’ve been doing drills in practices, getting up and down the floor in scrimmages, but really mostly doing drills like cone drills.”
Another thing that helps is who he sees in practice with the Black Devils.
Seven of the other 11 players listed on Robertson County’s roster at the end of last season were 6-foot or taller. That included Alex Schalch, a 6-foot-4 sophomore that averaged 16.3 points and 7.2 rebounds last year, and his brother, Ross Becker, a 6-foot-3 sophomore that averaged 7.6 points and six rebounds per game.
“I say on a daily basis that those three should thank each other and shake hands after every practice,” said Kelsch. “Very rarely will they go against big guys as good as that.”
Becker appeared in 16 varsity contests during his seventh grade season. He averaged 1.9 points and two rebounds per game, numbers significantly less than during his eighth grade year.
“Justin’s grown leaps and bounds from his seventh to eighth grade year. His seventh grade year he was on the varsity floor because I knew he had the skill set to be there,” said Kelsch. “Against juniors and seniors he might not have had the same strength or quickness, but he’s gotten so much stronger.”
The strength is something Kelsch says they’re continuing to work on. The Black Devils are going to be starting a weight training program to improve strength and quickness.
His height is something that could change, too. Becker is 6-foot-5 now and has been told he’ll likely get even taller.
“They say I’m supposed to,” said Becker. “I hope I do.”
His height helped him dominate at lower levels, like middle school, but Kelsch believes that’s not all he had going for him as he posted over 60 points one game, 50 a couple other times and over 40 on several occasions.
“He wasn’t just bigger,” said Kelsch, “He was also more skilled than anybody he played against.”
And he’s not afraid to match up against older kids on the big stage.
Becker helped the Black Devils to their first-ever 10th Region All “A” Classic title, giving Robertson County a chance to play on the floor of McBrayer Arena at Eastern Kentucky University in the All “A” State Tournament. His most notable game during the stretch came in the regional quarterfinals against Nicholas County, when he recorded 16 points.
He and the Black Devils will look to repeat as regional All “A” champions in the upcoming season and make a return to the 10th Region Tournament after missing it last season, but until then, Becker plans to be in the gym working on his game every chance he gets.
“Any opportunity he has to be in the gym, he’s in there working on his game. He’s working on his quickness, his jumping, his outside shot, his strength,” said Kelsch. “Anything he’s gotten to this point has been deserved.”