Negem carrying the load for Grace

Grace Community senior guard Jimmy Negem leads the Cougars by averaging 25 points per game. (Herb Nygren Jr. | Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Jimmy Negem played Robin to Craig Schambach’s Batman last season.

Now that the Caped Crusader has graduated, Negem has become Grace Community’s Superman.

A secondary scorer a year ago who could go for 20 points or just as easily defer to Schambach and score five, Negem has developed into the Cougars’ go-to guy this season, averaging 25.1 points per game.

“The role for him has changed so much and he’s accepted that role,” Grace coach Joe Crawford said. “He’s one of the most humble kids that I’ve coached. He just goes and plays every night. He loves the game. He’s evolved into that player that averages 25 a game.”

As a junior, Negem was the team’s secondary scorer behind Schambach, an All-East Texas first-team selection. Now a senior, Negem is utilizing what he learned from playing with Schambach.

“He was an amazing scorer; he pretty much made his shots happen,” Negem said of Schambach. “He would just take it at the top of the key and make something out of nothing. That was awesome to me. 

“I just took from him and tried to learn as much as I can while I was with him. He’s a great role model to me on the basketball court as well as off. I learned a lot from him.”

Negem said there’s a big difference from helping out with the scoring load to being called upon to lead the team each night. 

“There’s a lot of pressure on you now because you have to have in your mindset that you have to come out and play your best game every night,” he said. “You have to know your team will have troubles if you don’t perform well because they look to you to do a lot of the scoring.

“With that, it gives me a lot of comfort that I have teammates like I do that can step up in big situations.”

Just as the Cougars rely on Negem, he leans on his teammates.

“I would be nowhere without my teammates,” Negem said. “Players like Keaton (Yeatts) and Drew (Evans) … they’ve just kept me up and kept me doing really well this year.”

Negem has helped lead the Cougars (16-9, 5-4) into a strong position to reach the postseason out of the competitive, eight-team TAPPS 2-4A. 

He’s done it as a scorer, but also as a leader, defender and distributor.

In addition to leading his team in scoring (Verlo Levels at 8.9 and Yeatts at 6.8 are the next top scorers), Negem averages team bests in steals (3.7) and assists (3.4).

“He’s so coachable,” Crawford said. “He knows his role is to put points on the board but you can tell him I need you to do this and I need you to do that and he does it.”

Negem scored 34 points in a critical 57-52 victory over Dallas Christian on Tuesday, a vital boost to playoff hopes with All Saints lurking a game back and T.K. Gorman two back of the fourth and final playoff spot.

“It was just a really big game and I had a few lucky shots during that game,” Negem said. “It was a really close one but my teammates trusted me with the ball in a few situations and I’m glad they did because it worked out.”

While Negem has been heroic for the Cougars this season, one of his own superheroes can be seen on local television. Negem’s father, also named Jimmy, appears in a commercial for his law firm in Tyler.

“I like getting to see my dad on TV,” Grace’s leading scorer said. “He’s a great guy, great role model in my life. There’s no way I would be close to the type of man that I am without him.”

Crawford recognizes the type of man that Negem is while teaching his Government-Economics class.

“It’s the kind of kid that you’d want your daughter to marry; he’s just that kind of guy,” Crawford said. “Even the success he’s had, it’s not about him. And that’s what makes him such a good character person. He’s so fun to coach.”

NOTES: Grace plays at last-place Waco Reicher tonight at 7:30 p.m. The Lady Cougars play beforehand at 6 p.m. In other TAPPS 2-4A doubleheaders today, All Saints hosts Dallas First Baptist and T.K. Gorman plays at Dallas Christian.

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