The Concord Pirates boys basketball team practices most weekday afternoons for around two hours. Ballhandling drills. Shooting. Running. Practicing plays. And then for another two or so hours every weekday outside of the regularly scheduled practice time, junior point guard Jacob Roark is in the gym working on his game. Shooting. Perfecting his passing. Lifting weights. Roark is also in the gym on weekends.
No one is requiring Roark to work out on his own. He just does it. So when Pirates boys basketball coach Keith Cornett is asked what makes Roark such a special player, a Class 1A all-state selection as a sophomore, the coach has a three-word answer. “His work ethic,” Cornett said. Later, Cornett elaborates.
“He spends twice as much time outside of practice [practicing],” he said.
So what does Roark spend his time on?
“I work on everything,” he said. “I feel like I can never be too good of a ballhandler. I’m always working on that. Not just at Concord. And then passing and court vision and everything.
“I have a ballhandling workout, and I have a shooting workout, and I do a little bit of weights and other things every day.”
All that hard work pays off. Last year, Roark averaged about 23 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds per game. During one stretch in the 2011-12 season, Roark scored 40 points or more three games in a row, earning him the title of ESPN boys basketball Player of the Week for the Southeast region.
Beyond all his scoring on the court, Roark’s value to the Pirates boys basketball team can also be measured with his leadership skills.
“I feel like motivating people, leading people are my strengths,” Roark said. “I score a little bit and pass a little bit and everything, but I push everybody. The leadership role is just something I’ve always had. I’ve never really had to work on that.”
Roark first started playing basketball in the first grade. It has been a major component of his life since then. Like any teen, the 17-year-old enjoys hanging out and just relaxing when not busy with school work and sports, but he also devotes hours upon hours to basketball. Roark runs cross country for Concord and played baseball when he was younger, but basketball is his sports life. The speed of the game makes it fun, Roark said. “You’re always doing something.”
Roark (5-11, 170 pounds) is one of three returning starters for the Pirates, Cornett said. And out of the Pirates’ top seven last year, four were sophomores, including Roark. This year, Roark is one of four starting juniors, along with a senior starter.
“We were good and had a great season [last year], but four of those guys were sophomores, so a lot of those guys learned a lot from last year,” Cornett said. “The guys who I stick on the floor [this year] have a lot of playing experience, even though they are four juniors and one senior.”
The Pirates boys team also has some unfinished business from last year. The Pirates won their regional tournament and entered the state tournament 36-3 and were ranked No. 1 in Class 1A by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But the Pirates were upset in the first round by Nevada, 61-58, at Southern Arkansas University’s W.T. Watson Athletic Center.
Roark said it was “very disappointing” how the Pirates’ season ended last year, and the sting of that loss stimulated the Pirates’ offseason workouts. “It was tremendous motivation for the whole team,” he said. “Everybody on the team got focused real quick, starting this summer. We started working out in June.”
Cornett said the team learned a valuable lesson with that defeat.
“We understand that once you make it to the state tournament, you have to play well,” he said, “and we just didn’t play very well in the first round of the state tournament and got beat, and that’s what happens when you don’t play well. They remember [the loss], so I would say, ‘Yeah, it kind of motivated us a little.’”
Roark, who shot around 40 percent from the 3-point range last season, has spent some of his offseason working on his 3-point shot. Most of his 3-point shots last year were set shots, and he is developing a quicker release.
Roark does all this work with only a couple of goals in mind. He wants to earn a college basketball scholarship, but he has received only minimal college attention so far, hearing from a couple of schools but not receiving any scholarship offers.
“I think as far as Jacob goes, a lot of college coaches might look at him and see his size and look away from him,” Cornett said, “and I think a lot of them are going to miss out on something very special if they do that.”
But a college basketball scholarship is a personal goal, and Roark has some time to secure his scholarship offers. There are team goals that are more pressing right now.
“We definitely feel like we have the opportunity to win state,” Roark said. “If we work a little bit, we can get there.”
And Roark’s personal goal for the year is succinct: “I just want to win every game.”