OTTUMWA — It was the second half of the Ottumwa basketball team’s game against Indianola and Sam Moreland was surrounded by a phalanx of Indians’ defenders near the basket.
The chance of a happy ending for Moreland looked pretty grim, as the undersized forward tried to figure out a way to score among the giants. Then, somehow, Moreland managed to contort his body at an angle that kept his opponents from blocking him while he put up a shot that bounced off the backboard and fell through the net.
And, the thing is, the basket didn’t suffer from a lack of verisimilitude — it wasn’t just some glitch in the basketball cosmos. Instead, it served as a perfect microcosm of Moreland’s game: An extremely difficult basket made by a guy who knows how to get the job done.
“Sam has kind of played his way into the starting role,” Ottumwa coach Kevin Kanaskie said. “He may not lead us in scoring or rebounding or anything like that, but he just does the little things to help us win.”
An acute knowledge of the game has underlain much of Moreland’s success on the court. Kanaskie refers to Moreland as a guy who “has a high basketball IQ.” But smarts, while important, don’t adequately distill the essence of Moreland’s style of play: There also is his tremendous work ethic.
“He plays so hard,” Kanaskie said.
“I have to work really hard,” Moreland added. “I have to find ways to score.”
Not only does Sam have to work hard to score, he also has to exert an abundance of effort on defense against his larger opponents.
“I’m in there to get some offensive rebounds and guard those big guys and do the best I can to help the team win,” Moreland said.
After seeing very little varsity time last season, Moreland has had to adjust to playing big minutes at the varsity level.
“It’s been a little different,” he said. “It’s been a little harder and more intense, but it’s been a little more fun, too.”
The small forward’s breakout game this season came when he scored a season-high 10 points in a lopsided defeat to third-ranked (Class 3A) Cedar Rapids Xavier 71-48. Moreland, however, isn’t satisfied with the status quo — he wants to keep getting better.
“I’d like to be more of a scorer down low and keep some of those tall guys from getting easy points and getting rebounds,” he said.
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