Home Sports Jacob Nolen’s growth at Naperville North can’t be measured by height alone: ‘He’s so tough for us, and he never quits.’

Jacob Nolen’s growth at Naperville North can’t be measured by height alone: ‘He’s so tough for us, and he never quits.’

by staff

Jacob Nolen bears little resemblance to the kid who began his high school career playing on Naperville North’s freshman B team.

For one thing, the 6-foot-4 senior forward has grown at least 6 inches. He’s also a lot tougher.


“I feel like freshman year I was kind of small and I didn’t play with enough confidence,” Nolen said. “Like the way I played defense, I could have played tougher.

“As time went on, I realized what I was more capable of doing at both ends of the floor.”


Nolen’s determination earned him a promotion to the freshman A team midway through that season, and he has gradually worked his way up the ranks ever since. As a junior, he made the varsity team as a reserve. His minutes increased toward the end of the season, and now he’s starting for the first time.

“It’s a great story,” Naperville North coach Gene Nolan said. “You look at numbers when you’re a freshman, and you could think, ‘All these kids are ahead of me.’ But he just said, ‘I’m going to work on getting better,’ and he did.”

Nolen is what coaches sometimes refer to as a program kid. They are players who aren’t destined for greatness and haven’t been regarded as stars but are vital to a team’s success and cohesion.

“Jacob is a great young man,” Nolan said. “He’s resilient, and he’s grown through the program. Everybody that plays with Jacob looks at him and says, ‘That’s the kind of guy I want to play with.’ I’m just really proud of him.”

Naperville North’s offense runs through junior guards Luke Williams, Bryce Welch and Cole Arl, who have played on the same team since their days at Washington Junior High. They do most of the scoring and bring nearly all of the star power to the court.

Nolen, on the other hand, contributes intangibles.

“I feel he’s a whatever-you-need guy,” Welch said. “Whatever the team needs — whether it’s rebounding, scoring — he can always provide that for us.

“We’ve seen him get hot, so he always plays with confidence no matter what. That’s why we love him so much.”


Welch and Nolen worked out over the summer with a trainer, and the results have been impressive for both players. Welch has become a reliable scorer, and Nolen is more aggressive at both ends. Nolen is averaging 5.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.0 deflections, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals.

“I feel like I’m getting a lot better at finishing around the rim,” Nolen said. “At the start of the year, I feel like I struggled a little, but then I started to get my touch back. I’m also getting deflections, getting in passing lanes.”

That last quality may be Nolen’s best. He can be disruptive even when he’s not scoring, as he demonstrated when the Huskies (8-7) upset defending Class 4A state champion Glenbard West 49-44 in the first round of York’s Jack Tosh Holiday Classic on Dec. 26.

The Hilltoppers graduated the starting lineup that led them to the state title, but they had won six of their first eight games using players who had practiced against those starters last season and raced to a 20-12 lead against the Huskies.

Nolen then assisted on a 3-pointer by Arl, got a defensive rebound and fed Williams for a fast-break layup. Two possessions later, Nolen got a steal off a deflection. That was the start of a 21-5 run by Naperville North.

Nolen attempted only three shots and didn’t score, but he affected the game in other ways.


“He’s just a fighter,” Welch said. “He’s so tough for us, and he never quits. The game is so much easier on defense when he’s out there. He plays with confidence, and we all believe in him, so I just love playing with Jacob.”

Nolan loves to see Nolen’s hard work — and the example it sets — pay off.

“He just kept getting better and better through his hard work,” Nolan said. “He never stops working, and to see him as a senior now come into his own is exciting.”

Nolen doesn’t see his efforts as unique.

“We have a ton of tough guys on our team that play hard,” he said. “Even if shots aren’t falling, it’s all about defense, playing hard and playing tough. Keep playing tough, and everything will come to you.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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