(Editor’s Note: This piece on Northern Lebanon guards Sam Light and Richard Iwuagwu first appeared on Lebanon Sports Buzz in January of 2013. It was reprinted with permission.)
BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – In the biological world, it’s known as a symbiotic relationship.
Like very few teammates, Sammy Light and Richard Iwuagwu have an uncanny knack for making each other better. But the real winner is the Northern Lebanon boys’ basketball team.
Light is an intense competitor, who counts unteachable offensive skills among his on-court repertoire. Last season as a tenth-grader, Light led the Lancaster-Lebanon League in scoring at over 20 points an outing, and this season is again among the most prolific scorers in the circuit.
On the floor, Iwuagwu is a no-nonsense, in-your-face, on-the-ball defender. Employing quick feet, positioning and desire, Iwaugwu is recognized as one of the best – if not THE best – defensive player in the L-L League.
Now consider the fact that the Vikings are in the midst of their best season this century, and there’s just too many coincidences to ignore.
“I don’t think in the Lancaster-Lebanon league there’s a duo like us,” said Light, a junior off-guard. “We have the best of both worlds on our team. We have both sides of the ball covered. I’ll go as far as to say we’re the best one-two guard combo in the Lancaster-Lebanon League.”
“I’m not sure how it happened. It just worked out that way,” said Iwaugwu, a junior point guard. “But when it does, you have to work together. And if you do, it’s going to make the team pretty good.”
While both Iwuagwu and Light have made personal commitments to improve on their own, the biggest reason they have elevated their games to this point is each other. They have been fast friends since they were in the seventh grade, and during the off-season, they train with and against each other tirelessly.
The only place they have faced each other more than in practice is on the playground. Bet you didn’t know even know that Fredericksburg had playgrounds.
“I’m not sure how we met,” said Iwaugwu. “I think it was in the seventh grade, on the JV middle school basketball team. What I do know is that basketball is what brought us together as friends. I don’t know what else we have in common. It’s (basketball) what ignited our friendship.
“I’d say we’re close friends,” Iwaugwu continued. “We go everywhere together. We train together. We go to the weight room together. I’d say it’s a good friendship. Sleepovers and all that stuff.”
“I used to really like football,” said Light. “I wasn’t big into basketball, but that’s (seventh grade) when I started to get into it. We (he and Iwaugwu) started going to varsity games, and they weren’t that good at the time. We started a pact about how we wanted our high-school careers to go, and that’s the way they’ve gone so far.
“I have five or six best friends, to be honest,” continued Light. “But I don’t know where I’d be without Richard. I don’t know what I’d be into. Being the great friend that he is, he never let me fall into those things.”
Light and Iwaugwu would prefer to go against opponents than each other. But when they are compelled to do so, it’s physical, intense and fierce competition.
“He knows every single move I have,” said Light. “When we play, I can’t get around him so I shoot jump shots. You’ve got to react to him. When I play against Richard, the offensive player reacts to the defensive player.
“I do know his game, but Richard is crafty,” added Light. “He still gets you. When we play one-on-one, it gets physical because finesse doesn’t work.”
“We’ve played a lot over the years, especially in the off-season,” said Iwaugwu. “It could result in some blood shed. One time he head butted me and I got a tooth chipped. There’s not another pair who goes as hard as we do.
“When you play against Sam, you’ve got to do your best, stay low, keep your feet moving and pray he misses,” Iwaugwu added. “There’s not much more that you can do. I haven’t met anyone this season of his caliber.”
When this piece was written In January of last year, the Vikings were on a streak during which they have won ten of their last 11 games, upped their overall record to 13-4 and pushed their L-L Section Three mark to 8-3. Their pre-season goals of qualifying for the District Three Class AAA playoffs and the league postseason were well within their reach.
“Sam’s role is just giving the other teams a hard time,” continued Iwaugwu. “Giving the other coaches fits. Getting to the (free-throw) line. He gives 100 percent all the time and it inspires us as a team. If he wasn’t there, I don’t think we’d be as successful.”
“No, I’m not surprised. My expectations were high,” said Light. “If I could have it my way, we’d be undefeated. When we brought our individual talents together, that’s when we started clicking as a team.
“I can score the ball,” Light added. “But sometimes I hurt the team with my shot selection. I try to lead and set an example the best I can.”
One of the keys to their effectiveness on the court is that Iwuagwu and Light seem to have a very clear understanding of their roles. And each realizes that his no more important than anyone else’s.
“Richard guards the other team’s best player, every single time,” said Light. “He doesn’t complain, he just balls. And when his jumper is on, he’s a great offensive player. He is the reason we are able to be so successful.
“My role is to guard the other team’s best player,” said Iwuagwu. “And contribute offensively. All-out hustle, that’s what coach expects of me.
“Sam’s role is to lead our team offensively,” added Iwuagwu. “Get us fired up. Get to the line. I really like the way he picks his player’s pocket.”
Part of what makes the Iwuagwu-Light relationship work for Northern Lebanon is that each recognizes and respects the other’s talents, even though those talents might be totally different than his own.
“Absolutely. Yes he’s made me a better player,” said Iwuagwu. “If you’re going all out, you’re bound to get better. We know it makes us better.
“I give him all the credit,” Iwuagwu continued. “All of the off-season he was my training partner. I don’t know if anyone could’ve pushed me as much as he does.”
“Most definitely, he makes me expand my game,” Light said. “I can’t get into the lane against him, so I learned to shoot the jumper. He did a lot for my game.
“He made me what I am,” continued Light. “I wouldn’t average anything (points) near what I am if it wouldn’t be for him. You can go out and practice, but it’s not like playing against someone. If I get a new move I’ll try it on Richard, because if it works on Richard, it’ll work on everyone.”