Johnny Beck may be a baseball player at heart, but the 6-foot-8-inch left-hander has been a matchup nightmare for many Rochelle opponents throughout the 2017-18 varsity basketball season.
Often the tallest player when he steps on the floor, Beck is the driving force behind Rochelle’s offense this winter. The junior standout possesses a myriad of skills that force teams to double or even triple-cover him in order to get the basketball out of his hands. Sometimes even that isn’t enough to slow the talented forward down.
“When I played in middle school and my freshman year I would just take guys off the dribble because I was so much bigger,” Beck said. “But other players grow and become stronger as you get older, so having the ability to hit a pull-up jumper or a 3-point shot really helps. Developing jump shots off the dribble have really helped me improve.”
Rochelle’s fast-paced offense requires forwards to keep up in transition, and the team’s swarming full-court press means both big and small players need to stay attached to their defenders in order to force turnovers and create more scoring chances.
Beck has quickly adjusted to Rochelle’s style of play, however, and his length in the half-court defense makes scoring opportunities tough for opposing guards and forwards. Many of Rochelle’s high-scoring games this season have resulted from Beck finding success on offense, as was evidenced by a career-high 40-point performance to lead Rochelle over Kaneland 86-73 earlier this winter.
“Our team was pushing the tempo and I was able to get a lot of fast break layups and dunks,” Beck said. “Even the 3-pointers I was making were in transition so we were just pushing the pace really well and we really wanted to beat Kaneland… They thought they could beat us and we wanted to prove them wrong big time.”
Beck began playing basketball in third grade through the Rochelle Youth Basketball Association. With his father John pushing him, Beck has since become one of Rochelle’s most versatile scorers. He played a dual role with Rochelle’s freshman and sophomore teams during his freshman season before earning varsity playing time as a sophomore.
“Coach [Tim] Thompson has always kept me excited to play basketball, and my dad has always pushed me to work as hard as I possibly can,” Beck said.
His age didn’t prevent him from taking the court in big moments, though. He sunk a 3-pointer from the corner to help Rochelle defeat Morris at the buzzer last season, and learning under a group of talented players including 6-foot-8-inch forward Kyle Seebach allowed him to prepare for taking on a far bigger role with the varsity team this season.
“Scoring was definitely an area where I needed to step up this year,” Beck said. “They’ve definitely been asking for more defense and rebounding than they did last year… When you’re younger you can usually just stand there on defense when you’re tall, but learning where to be on defense and playing more competitive defense has definitely grown on me.”
Beck dabbled in football when he was younger, but baseball and basketball have since become his two primary sports. He said he hopes to continue his athletic career in baseball beyond the high school level, and some of his baseball role models include Chicago Cubs stars Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
On the basketball court, however, Beck said he models his in-game mentality after NBA legends Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Beck is always in attack mode when he’s in the game, and the long left-hander often enjoys preying upon shorter defenders.
“I love taking it to the small guys and letting them know that there’s nothing they can do to stop me,” Beck said. “If I’m matched up with a bigger guy I’ll try and take him off the dribble, but when I’m on a smaller guy I’ll try and post up.”
Even when he’s struggling to score, Beck said he’s gone from being down on himself to finding other ways to positively impact his team. Beck will be one of the biggest players on the floor when Rochelle begins its postseason run at the IHSA Class 3A Regional in Stillman Valley this week, and the Hubs will be counting on him to continue producing.
“I’ve realized that there’s always something else I can help my team with if I’m not playing the best,” Beck said. “Whether its defense, rebounding or something else… There are four other guys on the court with me.”