Putting the ball in the basket is something that’s always come naturally to Jake Costello.

While continuing to lead No. 12 South Albany High in scoring, the versatile senior wing has shown dramatic improvement in his all-around basketball game this winter. Entering Tuesday’s home matchup with No. 8 Central (10-2, 2-0), Costello is averaging 8.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per contest for the Mid-Willamette Conference-leading Rebels (9-3, 2-0).

Costello’s scoring has also increased from 18.6 per game a season ago to 21.2. He put up 19 in Thursday’s 66-48 victory at Lebanon to become the fourth player in school history to surpass 1,000 career points.

“I think my game has grown a lot from last year,” said the 6-foot-3 Costello, a first-team all-MWC pick as a junior. “I think I can pass the ball better, I can defend better and I’m trying to be a better rebounder. Ten rebounds a game is the focus and I’m hovering right around there.”

Third-year South coach Justin Smith has watched Costello develop into a better — and more willing — distributor.

The fast-paced Rebels are at their best when sharing the ball in transition. With Costello and senior point guard Jaden Guilford leading the show, South can pile up points in a hurry.

“Because Jake is a good scorer, teams are going to spend a lot of time and attention guarding him,” Smith said. “We have guys that can really shoot and really score other than him, so he’s got to be able to do that for us. And he’s done a good job.”

Costello has also improved as a 3-point shooter.

A season ago, the athletic slasher hit around 30 percent from beyond the arc. He’s north of 40 percent as a senior.

“I really like his style of play and I think it complements mine very well,” Guilford said. “It’s kind of nice because he’s able to score when I’m not, and vice versa.

“We are kind of on the opposite sides of the spectrum on the court because he’s a bigger kid, bigger size, so it’s easy to feed him the ball. And he’s so versatile that he can drive and score at the same time.”

An old-school three-sport star, Costello pitches and plays first base for South’s baseball team and quarterbacks the football team. With Costello behind center, the Rebels were the MWC co-champions last fall and reached the state quarterfinals for the first time in program history.

All three coaching staffs set high expectations and demand excellence, Costello said. The competitive atmospheres have made Costello a better basketball player.

“In football, just look at all the adversity we faced this year,” Costello said. “Coming from behind in all those games, winning and just being tough. And baseball-wise, we have a great staff and I’ve learned a lot from them. Patience, mental toughness and other stuff that comes along from the game of baseball definitely translates to the basketball court.”

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Costello isn’t shy about his aspirations of playing college basketball. He is currently being recruited by a wide variety of Division II, Division III and NAIA schools.

Smith believes defense will be Costello’s biggest challenge at the college level.

“Because the main thing is he’s 6-2, 6-3, and he’s going to have to guard really athletic, long guards,” Smith said. “That’s what college coaches look for all the time because you have to be able to do that to play at that level.”

But for now, Costello is focused on leading the Rebels back to the 5A state playoffs.

The 2016-17 squad went two-and-out at the state tournament. Costello, Guilford and Smith all see the potential for a better finish this time around.

“I know we do, but the important thing for us is to not take that for granted and to just think it’s going to be given because of what happened last year,” Costello said. “This team will be what this team will be. It’s definitely not last year’s team.”


Sports Reporter

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