Naperville North’s Cole Arl has always been one of the shorter kids on the court.
The junior point guard even said his listed 5-foot-11 height is a stretch.
“I’m probably 5-9,” Arl said. “I’ve always been pretty short.”
Yet it would be a mistake to underestimate Arl. Teams that do often find themselves, well, overwhelmed.
Such was the case Tuesday night, when Arl combined with longtime friends Luke Williams and Bryce Welch to help the host Huskies knock off Andrew 54-43 in a nonconference game in Naperville.
Williams, as he often does, led the way statistically with 22 points and four steals for Naperville North (9-7). But Arl contributed 13 points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal. Those numbers don’t include the several incredibly acrobatic plays that Arl made against the Thunderbolts (8-8).
“I thought Cole did a really nice job for us tonight,” Naperville North coach Gene Nolan said. “He’s a tough kid, and he’s athletic.
“He handles the ball well, and he plays with great balance, and that’s helped him offensively, where he doesn’t get sped up. And then defensively, it’s helped him in terms of his ball pressure with having strong hands, and he’s quick laterally.”
Arl won the job as Naperville North’s starting point guard last season and has improved quickly. His tenacious defense, pinpoint passing and ability to protect the ball make him hard to beat and even tougher to stop, although he often plays against opponents 6 inches taller.
Arl is averaging 9.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals and is shooting 35.6% from 3-point range and 75.6% on free throws.
“He’s a great player,” Williams said. “He can pass, shoot and dribble, so him being a lead guard in our offense says a lot. He’s very tough and mentally tough too. He’s a great leader for us.”
While Arl may surprise those who haven’t previously seen him play, it is nothing new to Williams, who has been playing with Arl and Welch since they were in third grade.
“I always knew,” Williams said. “Even though he was really short, he was really gritty, too, always beating people who were bigger and taller, and he’d play hard all the time.”
Arl, who plays running back for the football team, estimates he weighs 165 pounds. Much of it is compact muscle, helped along by football workouts, and he knows how to utilize it effectively.
“He plays bigger, even though he’s smaller,” Williams said. “So that allows him to get shots up.”
Arl made six of his last seven shots against Andrew, beginning with a 3-pointer that gave the Huskies a 17-9 lead in the second quarter.
Andrew fought hard in the second half behind 6-8 center Grantas Sakenis, who scored a game-high 28 points on 13-of-15 shooting.
But Arl always had an answer when Andrew got within striking distance. His 17-foot pull-up jumper gave Naperville North its largest lead at 43-27.
“He hit some timely shots for us,” Nolan said. “When Andrew would go on a run, Cole seemed to be able to get a bucket when we needed it.”
Those shots weren’t even Arl’s greatest plays. Two came late in the second quarter.
Standing in the right corner, Arl leaped to save a crosscourt pass from Jacob Nolen, redirecting it to Welch as he fell out of bounds. Welch buried a jumper.
Arl then intercepted a pass under his own basket and fed Williams for a transition layup.
“I was ready for Jacob to pass me the ball in the corner, but it was kind of bad,” Arl said. “I was trying to catch it, but I was like, OK, there’s no way, so I was just trying to make a play for the team.
“That’s kind of how it was on the other one too. I saw Luke, so I went to pass to him.”
It’s something Arl has done countless times over the past decade.
“Even back in the day, I had fun breaking the press, so I feel like I can find my teammates pretty well, and today they finished very well and they were helping me out,” Arl said. “I’ve played with Luke and Bryce forever, and it’s super surreal being able to be on a high school floor playing with them now.”
Williams thinks Arl could be a Division I running back and said college recruiters should not overlook him.
“They might doubt his height, but he’s a great running back,” Williams said. “He has great vision, and obviously on the basketball court it shows.”
Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.