WARSAW — It might surprise some Warsaw fans to know that their team’s leading scorer would rather give the ball up. Nevertheless, that’s the case for senior point guard Nolan Groninger, who says he would prefer to get teammates involved rather than finish himself.
“I prefer to kind of play that way, but my team needed me to score this season, so I’ve just tried to figure out how to score points,” explained Groninger.
Groninger earned himself Ink Free News Player of the Year honors a second straight year for leading the Tigers to a 13-7 regular-season finish against an improved strength of schedule and a fifth-straight Northern Lakes Conference championship, which the Tigers shared with Elkhart Memorial following dual 6-1 conference finishes.
Groninger may rather facilitate for his teammates than score the ball himself, but it turns out, he’s pretty good at both.
The savvy, 6-foot senior one guard is leading his team in scoring with 14.1 points per game, as well as in assists with 3.6 a night. He’s not too bad defensively, either, and he’s been good for 1.4 steals per game to lead the team in that department, too.
Groninger burst onto the area basketball scene as a junior last season, and as he grew more comfortable at the varsity level and in his new role, he helped pull the Tigers along with him. Warsaw opened that season at 3-7 before rattling off seven straight wins en route to an 11-12 record.
Looking ahead to this year, Groninger knew he was going to need to step up his scoring even more for the Tigers to be successful, so he began filling in some gaps in his offense. Already a good ball-handler with the ability to break down defenses off the dribble and either finish off the drive or get to the free throw line, Groninger focused on developing his jump shot. Not only have those efforts boosted his scoring average from 12 to 14 points per game, his finishing has gotten more efficient, too. Groninger owns a 51 percent field goal shooting percentage (99-of-196), up from 47 percent last season. Part of that improved efficiency has come from beyond the arc as well — his 3-point shooting accuracy is up a full 13 percent from just 15 percent in 2017-18 as he’s canned 11 shots from beyond the arc so far.
“Coach Ogle told me that I needed to be able to average double figures for our team to be good. I’ve been driving to the basket, so I figured I needed to work on my jump shot just to be a part of scoring and helping overall,” explained Groninger.
“One of my biggest struggles I had last year was shooting jump shots, so I tried to work on that a lot this summer. That’s kind of paid off later down the end of the season. I feel it makes me more of a complete player when I know I can hit a jump shot or I know I can try and get to the basket — it makes me more well-rounded.”
Groninger says his biggest hurdle was finding confidence in his jump shot, confidence he’s been able to grow over time. The biggest breakthrough came in a conference win over NorthWood back on Jan. 25, when he knocked down 8-of-11 (73 percent) shots on his way to a game-high 20 points. He followed up with 21 points in two straight games — back-to-back wins over Elkhart Central and Plymouth, the latter of which clinched Warsaw at least a share of the NLC title — then scored 25 points at a 7-of-11 (64 percent) clip in a win over Merrillville Feb. 9, the Tigers’ seventh straight.
“I think I’ve always been a pretty good shooter, but I struggle with confidence. I think against NorthWood, it kind of clicked with me,” recalled Groninger. “Ever since NorthWood I’ve had more confidence, and that’s helped down the stretch.”
Through his development as a shooter, Groninger has retained the ability to break down defenses off the dribble. A prototypical point guard with good handles and even better court vision, he can anticipate what the defense will do, which allows him to collapse defenses off the drive, then work from the inside-out assisting teammates. So far this season, Groninger has passed out 72 assists — including five or more in six different contests — which he’s recorded to the tune of a 1.16 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“I like driving to the basket. I like drawing defenders to me, and that creates open shots for other guys,” said Groninger. “If my teammate hits a shot that I can assist on, I like that better than scoring. It’s kind of fun.”
He may make it look easy, but shifting from a pass-first approach to a more balanced one has involved some adjustment.
Depending on the opponent or a given situation, finding the best balance in-game can still be challenge, and it’s a skill Groninger continues to hone. But while it may have only recently shown itself, it’s an ability that only comes with a lifetime of practice.
“The balance of being the leading scorer as the point guard — where I have to get my teammates involved and run the offense and also score on top of that — I feel like that’s a big challenge that I’ve been able to kind of overcome this year,” he said.
“I think it just comes with a lot of experience. I’ve played a lot of basketball since I was probably eight or nine. I think it just comes with experience, knowing when to score and when to get teammates involved.”
Groninger and the Tigers enter Elkhart Central Sectional play at 7 p.m. Tuesday night. As Warsaw competes for a 41st-ever sectional title, the team will lean heavily on Groninger, as it always does. Groninger has scored in double figures in 10 of his last 12 outings and 31 times over his varsity career. He’s projected to make his 43rd start when the Tigers take on rival Elkhart Memorial at North Side Gym. The Chargers stole a piece of the NLC crown with a nip-tuck, 48-45 win at Warsaw a week ago, and the Tigers will be looking to return the favor tonight.
“I like the aspect of always having a goal of trying to beat the other opponent and get the ball into the basket. You have two teams, and the other team is trying to do the same thing you are. It’s just kind of fun to play a game and see who can do it best,” Groninger said.