Ethan Underwood was going to get his shots in.
Half an hour before Monday’s practice was set to begin, Underwood was in street clothes with a boot wrapped around his right foot, getting any kind of work in that he could. Thankfully, it didn’t seem like the rolled ankle he sustained in his last game was serious, but that news didn’t take away from his disappointment in not being able to join his teammates on the court later on.
“I don't like it,” Underwood said. “Every time I see a basketball or watch a game, I have to play. It's hard to watch.”
The War Eagles certainly would have liked to have him on the floor, too: South has begun its 2019 season well, and Underwood, just a sophomore, has broken into a big role. At 5-foot-10, he’s not the biggest guard, but that hasn’t stopped him from being highly productive. He scored 31 points with five shots from behind the arc in his last game against Northview last week, and a few days before that, his 25 points and seven threes against Gainesville led his team.
As a freshman, Underwood didn’t have nearly the same kind of impact on the stat sheet, but even so, South boys head coach Scott Givens knew the potential was there. In his estimation, South only played three bad games last year — Underwood was out for two of them with sickness, and his ball handling and passing was greatly missed. But even before his freshman year, Givens was excited by what he saw from him.
“When I saw him in the eighth grade, I knew we had a special player,” Givens said. “I knew there was going to be an opportunity for him and he took advantage of it.
“He's a real savvy basketball player. He's very intelligent and he knows where to put the spots offensively. The moment doesn't bother him. That's good, and you can't teach that.”
He’s been working hard on the things he can be taught, though: Underwood has always seen himself as a good shooter, but he felt like his skills as a guard needed work, as well as his ability to get to the hoop for two instead of the threes he’s so comfortable with.
“I've just been a lot more confident lately,” Underwood said. “I did a lot of shooting on the gun over the summer, and I think that helped with my jump shot. My AAU coach helped me change it a little, and now I'm just a lot more confident since last year.”
Underwood’s success has also been a result of taking advantage of his opportunities. Junior teammate Devin McGlockton is a solid presence for South in the post, and he’s frequently double-teamed as a result. Whenever that happens, Underwood is usually there on the outside to make teams pay.
“I love playing with Devin,” Underwood said. “I get a lot of assists to him easy. His vision is insane, so I'll be in the corner, I know he doesn't see me, but I'll be getting ready because I know he'll be coming to me. We've played together a couple of times over the past years, but last year was big for us. Over the summer, we really bonded.”
For this week, South will be without Underwood and all his scoring potential. He’s expected to be back for the games that matter if everything goes according to plan, though, and in a region as tough as the one the War Eagles are in, having that kind of help could go a long way.
“It's going to be interesting,” Givens said. “It's a long season, but heck, we get into region play next Tuesday. We’ve got Lambert here so we need to get this kid back.
“The sky's the limit for him. It really is. I think he's got an opportunity to be an exceptional player in this region for the next three years.”