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Ripon Christian riding high with Vander Molens

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Ripon Christian boys basketball coach Ron Vander Molen is flanked by his sons Danny (far right) and Jon, as well as nephew Travis Vander Molen (far left). All three boys play and integral role on R...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED January 10, 2013 11:25 p.m.

RIPON – The 2-on-2 basketball games in Grandpa’s driveway have been the stuff of family legend, a staple of their holiday get-togethers.

Jon and Jadon, the oldest and youngest of the Vander Molen teens, versus Danny and Travis, cousins separated by mere months.

Ball in.

“We just like to have fun together,” Travis said.

If only the stakes were so low.

For years, Jon and Jadon dominated this race to 21 points, largely because Jon – an 18-year-old senior at Ripon Christian – was older, stronger and faster.

Then Danny and Travis began to mature, and the games, well …

The games have become war; no longer a time-killer between meals.

 “Things have changed,” said Danny, Jon’s younger brother and a three-sport varsity athlete at Ripon Christian as a sophomore.

“We’ve gotten bigger and can guard Jon now. He can’t just go right by us. … I take quite a bit of satisfaction (in victory). I’ll pick on them a bit; do a little bragging. ‘Oh, we beat you.’ Stuff like that.”

Those battle lines extend onto the hardwood of Ripon Christian’s large gym, where all three play integral roles for varsity head coach Ron Vander Molen, Jon and Danny’s father and Travis; uncle.

Practice is intense.

Case in point: Wednesday afternoon’s Blue vs. White scrimmage.

Ron paced the sideline, as the action whipped back and forth into a blur.

Jon slashed to the bucket for a layup on one end, high-fiving a teammate as he jogged off the court. Without pause, Danny and Travis sprinted back the other way for their offensive series.

 “We don’t like to lose,” Jon said.

The Knights have done little of that with the Vander Molen brood as their catalyst. Ripon Christian has won 11 of its first 14 games and sits atop the Southern League standings at 3-0 after Thursday’s 77-13 at Denair.

The Knights are back home tonight against Turlock Christian.

“Over the summer, when we first started playing a lot together, I realized it was a special makeup that we had,” Jon said. “It’s been fun to play with Travis and Danny.”

They’ve been easy to coach, too.

All three have grown up around the program, so they understand Ron’s system and expectations. It also helps that they’ve been blessed with Ron’s even-keel demeanor. There is no bickering, finger-pointing or animosity amongst the three.

“For me, it’s been easier to coach them. They’re always helping at basketball camps. They understand the drills, because they’ve seen me do them so many times with other teams. They know what I’m talking about,” Ron said. “They’re ahead of the game in terms of understanding. They’re typical coaches’ kids – they have really good basketball IQs.”

It shows on the court.

Jon is a captain and the team’s leading scorer at 12.8 points per game. His game has evolved over the years. Once a stand-still shooter, Jon can score in variety of ways. More than anything, though, he provides leadership for a team that features three juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.

“Sometimes I have to remind him that I’m the coach. He can get distracted coaching my team for me,” Ron said with a chuckle. “But that’s a good leadership quality to have.”

Travis is the team’s youngest player, but far from a baby. Built like a linebacker, the 6-foot guard is believed to be the first freshman to start at the varsity level in the program’s rich history.

“That’s really special,” he said. “For all the people that have gone through here and how talented they were, I’m just blessed to have this opportunity. Hopefully, I’ll make this most of it.”

So far, so good.

His versatility sets him apart.

Travis shut down Waterford’s Blake Terry in Tuesday’s 78-52 victory, limiting Terry to just nine points – 11 fewer than his season average.

In the final of the Ripon Christian Tournament, Travis poured in a season-high 18 points against Gregori, a team coached by his father, Mike Vander Molen.

“When you watch him play, you don’t say that kid looks like a freshman,” Ron said. “He looks like a junior or senior.”

Danny provides a spark off the bench for the Knights. The varsity soccer and baseball player is among the team’s most athletic players, and like Travis, can fill a variety of roles.

He has scored in double figures three times, including 13 on Tuesday, and averages 2.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals.

“It’s different and it’s special,” Ron said. “It has its rewards. It also has its trials.

“Sometimes I have to remind them that I’m their coach, and sometimes I have to remind myself to treat them like a player and not a son.

“It hasn’t been a big problem, though. It has been more rewarding than anything else.”

Missing in all of this family fun is Jadon, Jon’s teammate during the holiday pick-up games and the youngest of the bunch.

His time is coming.

Like Travis, he’s expected to attend Ripon Christian. Jadon is in seventh grade.

“It’s cool to see Jadon coming along and developing the way he is,” Jon said.

Ball in.

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