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One thing about Ruben Gosa is that opposing teams usually know the North Hardin guard is going to have the ball in his hands since he’s the team’s main offensive threat.
Stopping the 6-foot senior can be something altogether different.
Gosa is an opposing coach’s nightmare because of his ability to break down defenses. Try to play off of Gosa and he can light teams up from behind the 3-point arc. Try to get right on him and he can drive to the basket for layups. Try to play him straight up and he can beat you with his mid-range game, taking one or two dribbles and sinking a 15-footer.
Not too many teams have been successful solving the dilemma Gosa poses. He is averaging 18.5 points this season and has been on a tear lately, which only heightens the challenge for opposing coaches.
“He’s very difficult to defend,” John Hardin coach Mark Wells said. “He has multiple options when he has the ball. Guard him tight and he can beat you. Back off and he can shoot over you. He also has the ability to draw fouls and he’s a great free-throw shooter. He’s tough to try to contain.”
Next up to try to slow down Gosa are the Bethlehem Eagles (26-5). North Hardin plays the Eagles at 8:45 tonight in the Boys’ 5th Region Basketball Tournament semifinals at Hart County.
Gosa has scored 10 or more points in all but one of North Hardin’s 31 games. He’s scored 22 or more points in six of the last eight games, including a 32-point performance against Bardstown in the regular-season finale and a 33-point outburst against Central Hardin in the 17th District Tournament.
“I’m just playing my game and taking what the defense is giving me,” Gosa said. “The biggest thing is I’m getting in the right mindset before the game. I’ll get mentally focused. It’s 100 percent mental for me. That’s what has helped me more than anything.”
It was a transition for Gosa going from North Hardin Christian, where he spent his sophomore and junior seasons, to North Hardin. He was convinced his success in the Kentucky Christian Athletic Association would carry over to the KHSAA level.
Although he began the season with a 20-point performance against Louisville Doss, Gosa only scored more than 20 points once in his next 10 games. He was shooting only 35.5 percent from the field, including going 15-for-58 behind the 3-point line.
“Ruben was struggling shooting the ball early,” North Hardin coach Ron Bevars said. “I think it was probably an adjustment to the speed of the game from where he was. That’s not a knock on that league, but he had to figure it out. It took him some time.”
Gosa was a star at North Hardin Christian, putting up ridiculous numbers. As a sophomore, he was named the MVP as the Falcons won the state championship and he helped the team to the state tournament last season.
That success didn’t translate at first, but Gosa didn’t get frustrated or get down on his game. Instead, it fueled him to work even harder to figure out how to become that player again at his new home.
“The caliber of players was different than North Hardin Christian,” Gosa said. “Every team has two or three stars, maybe more. You have a lot more guys that can play. Some teams (in the KCAA) might have one. Players are fundamentally sound than what they were there. It was a little of an adjustment. It was a challenge for me to become a better player.”
It’s much like his childhood days when he played with his older brother, Maurice, who graduated from North Hardin in 2008.
“He was cutthroat,” Gosa said, not cracking a smile. “He didn’t care I was younger. My mom (Felicia) would tell him why don’t you let him win. He never did. He cut me no slack. He pushed me to be better than him. That developed me as a player.”
So when his season got off to a rocky start, Gosa drew strength in those tough one-on-one sessions with Maurice, who is six years older. He never gave up then and he was determined not to do it now. Gosa worked even harder, spending countless hours in the gym putting up shot after shot. He worked tirelessly on jumpers from 12 to 15 feet and then did the same on 3-pointers.
It’s that willingness to put in the time that has made Gosa one of the most dangerous players in the region. He has scored 20 or more points in 10 of his last 16 games and has shot 50 percent or better in eight games during that stretch. His shooting percentage has climbed to 42.7 and his 3-point percentage to 27.3. Gosa has made 127-of-160 (79.4 percent) from the foul line.
“Ruben has a great work ethic and he has a big heart,” Bevars said. “He’s a quick, athletic guard, but he works at it. That’s why he’s been so successful is because he puts in the time.”
The Trojans are two games away from reaching the state tournament for the 13th time and for the second time in the last four years. Gosa, who also leads the team in steals and is second in assists, was a freshman in 2010 when they won the region championship.
Gosa realizes North Hardin players aren’t measured by statistics alone, but by region championships.
“I want one bad,” Gosa said. “Looking back at my freshman year we talked about that as a team. Now we’re seniors and it’s our turn to do it. It’s been a good year, but it could be a lot better. I’m looking forward to the next game. We want to do even better right now, because we know what’s at stake.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.