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When Eric Braden had his pre-season meeting with Adam Rettinger, the new Morgan Township coach didn't make any grand promises.

"I told him I expected him to be our best defender and lead us in assists," Braden said.

As unglamorous as that sounds, it appealed to Rettinger, who's never been one to resist doing the dirty work.

"Defense has always been my forte," Rettinger said. "Coach Braden really wanted to emphasize defense. He wanted me to be a spark plug. On the offensive end, it doesn't matter if I score or not, as long as the team's doing well."

It hasn't been a great season for the 4-10 Cherokees, but it's not for a lack of effort from Rettinger. He leads the teams in assists and is their top defender, just like Braden asked him to do.

"Adam can get two, three shots a game and he never complains," Braden said. "He's a great on-ball defender. Night in, night out. it's his job to guard the opposing team's best offensive player. He's our strongest kid, too, so a lot of times, we throw him down (low). I coached him in middle school and I knew the character, the work ethic he had. He's a quiet kid who leads by example and does all the little things you ask."

Speaking of little, Rettinger stands just 5-foot-6, but the Cherokees catcher in baseball is sturdy and unfazed by his height disadvantage.

"It's high school basketball. Nobody's going to just dominate you," he said. "(Size) doesn't really matter. You can play good, hard defense on anybody. If you can a five-second call or force them to call a timeout, it fires everybody up. I like working hard. I don't mind getting roughed up. One thing I always try to do, whether I'm getting hit by a ball in baseball or falling hard in basketball, is to get back up and shake it off."

Rettinger developed his resiliency at home, where he's the youngest of three boys. Brothers Wes and Ryan were also Morgan athletes who didn't hesitate to bounce Adam around at a younger age.

"It's something I remember from when I was little, seeing somebody never give up, even though they were down," Rettinger said. "If the other guys see me working hard, they'll work hard. We've got a large freshman class and I try to be a role model, to instill all those good character traits."

A three-sport athlete as a freshman and a sophomore, Rettinger took his junior year off with a case of burnout. He was up in the air about his senior season, but when Braden was named coach, he jumped at the chance to return.

"I played for him in middle school and he was somebody I really liked," Rettinger said. "He's a good teacher. I got to the summer and I was regretting (not playing), so I'm really glad I had the opportunity to come back and play for Mr. Braden."

With plenty of young talent in the program and another promising freshman class on the horizon, the future looks bright at Morgan. Even though Rettinger will be gone by the time fortunes turn around, he'll be able to take pride when he comes back and sees a former teammates diving on the floor or taking a charge.

"Basketball's supposed to be fun," Rettinger said. "It's fun to win, but whatever our record is, playing basketball's about working hard, pushing yourself, building character."


Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.