Big man’s role fits Nabatoff

There was a time in Jacob Nabatoff’s high school career when he could sleep quite comfortably in a twin-sized bed.

Charlotte Latin senior center Jacob Nabatoff has grown a foot since his freshman season and is nearly averaging double digits in both points and rebounds for the Hawks.

As a freshman at Charlotte Latin, Nabatoff stood 5 feet, 8 inches and, as is usually the case with most boys that height, he played guard on the basketball team.

Then, well, Nabatoff’s sleeping arrangements had to change.

By his sophomore season, he’d sprouted six inches to 6-2 – not freakishly tall, so he remained at his guard position on the Hawks’ JV squad. But by his 11th-grade season, he stood 6-6½, and Charlotte Latin coach Chris Berger had no choice but to move Nabatoff to center. The transition wasn’t exactly smooth, but Nabatoff made significant strides as an interior player on a Hawks team that finished second in the conference and won a state playoff game before falling to eventual champion Raleigh Ravenscroft.

Now, as a senior, Nabatoff is bigger and better than ever.

Standing 6-8, Nabatoff has added 35 pounds of muscle since last season and weighs a solid 195 pounds. His offensive moves are more polished, and his defensive skills in the post have added a dimension that’s been lacking at Charlotte Latin in recent years.

Nabatoff’s growth – from both a physical and a basketball standpoint – is a key reason the Hawks have bolted to a 12-2 record and have a chance to compete for the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association title this season.

“Seeing Jacob grow six inches over the last 18 months is exciting, because we haven’t had anybody over 6-5 since (1994 grad) Chase Metheney,” Berger said. “So it’s nice to have some size and versatility in our offenses that we try to set up.

“For the last number of years, we’ve had the guard play. We’ve had some really good shooters, and we’ve been a tough matchup. But we have an inside presence now in Jacob, along with (6-5) Parker Julian, our little freshman that we’re excited about, and (6-3) Louis Tonon, our undersized (center).”

But for Nabatoff, growing an entire foot since his ninth-grade year hasn’t been without its challenges.

“I didn’t have a bed for those three years,” Nabatoff said with a laugh. “I put my mattress on the floor because my headboard and my footboard were too close together where I couldn’t sleep. I put my mattress on the floor so (my feet) could hang off the end. But I’ve changed beds now.”

He’s also changed – dramatically – as a player. Knowing that he had to improve as a player to fulfill his goals of helping the Hawks improve this season and playing college basketball afterward, Nabatoff joined forces with teammates Rusty Reigel and Adam Herrmann. The trio played on the same AAU team and put in more sweat equity off the court.

“We looked at last season and said that the biggest thing we could do to get better was to get more physical,” Nabatoff said. “To get more physical, we had to get bigger, so we all hit the weight room really hard. I started lifting every day. I worked hand in hand with (Latin assistant coach Jorn) Bleimann. I was still growing, and I had to do everything I could to keep my weight on.”

Nabatoff’s now a more confident player. He nearly averages double figures in both points and rebounds, and he often finishes off hard drives to the basket with rim-rattling dunks or kick-outs to deft outside shooters Reigel and Herrmann.

“Last year, I had no post moves — I got by with trying to scrap and get the offensive boards I could and get little putbacks,” Nabatoff said. “It helps to have the vision I used to have – I can pass as well as I used to. I’m happy that I was short once and was able to develop some guard skills. It’s definitely paid off in my transition.”

Nabatoff also was able to fulfill his college-basketball dream, as he signed with Amherst (Mass.) College. Bigger schools, such as Columbia and Dartmouth, were interested in Nabatoff but preferred to wait to observe him more during his senior season before making a final commitment. Nabatoff, who carries a 3.5 GPA, said he felt extremely comfortable choosing Amherst.

“That was the best option I had to play at an elite academic school and make the most of my education,” Nabatoff said. “I took advice from a lot of people, and I went to the school that wanted me most. I wanted to control my own destiny.”

And it’s safe assume that finding a mattress for a 6-8 guy in Amherst won’t be all that difficult.

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