BEMENT — Connor Gross has grown up around the game of basketball. To be honest, it’d be really hard not to with a father who coached at the same high school he currently attends.
Gross’ dad, Rich, headed the Bement basketball team in the early 1990s, coaching for seven seasons and guiding the Bulldogs to a regional championship in 1993 before handing the reins to current coach Kraig Rogers midway through his eighth season.
It comes as no surprise then that Gross’ first word was a short and sweet four-letter expression: “ball.” Gross doesn’t remember that story from his early childhood, but basketball entered his life at a young age and never left.
“My dad had to start me early,” he said.
An early emphasis on fundamentals from his father and a constant drive to improve helped Gross make the varsity as a freshman and is the propelling factor in his current record-setting play.
Gross scored 25 points and dished out four assists in a 73-49 win against Martinsville on Friday night at Walsh Gym. The Bulldogs’ sharp-shooter set the school record for three-pointers made in a career just 15 games into his junior season after already eclipsing the 1,000-point milestone earlier in the season.
Gross hit four threes in the win and stands with 200, three more than previous record-holder Andy Hendrix, who graduated in 2003.
Gross hit 9 of 13 shots, including 4 of 6 from behind the arc, to pace Bement (6-9, 2-0 LOVC). Seniors C.J. Somers (17 points) and Tyce Rittenhouse (12) also finished in double figures to help the Bulldogs open an 11-point lead after the first quarter and cruise to a conference win against a Martinsville team that only dressed seven players.
Bement has won four of its last five games after starting 2-8. The Bulldogs finally are healthy after an ankle injury to Ethan Morton in a Thanksgiving tournament sidelined the junior starter for several weeks, and Rogers has a full roster to work with after early disciplinary issues.
“We haven’t been a full-strength unit until our game against Arcola on Tuesday,” Rogers said. “That’s really the biggest thing. We’re all back together on the same page.”
And that allows the Bulldogs to put the focus back on their goals for the season, including making a run at an LOVC title.
“We’ve been working hard in practice, that’s the No. 1 thing,” Gross said. “We set high goals, and if we want to reach those we’re going to have to work hard, harder than what we have been in the past.”