All you have to do is look at the Northwest Conference scoring leaders to see that Bellingham guard Nick Zeegers has improved tremendously during the first half of his senior season.
In Bellingham's first 13 games, Zeegers is averaging 12.5 points - 4.2 more than he averaged during the 2011-12 season.
Long hours over the summer spent alone in a gym with "The Gun" - a rebounding machine that collects balls under the basket and spits them back out to a shooter at a rate of nearly 1,000 balls per hour - certainly have paid off for Zeegers.
"After an hour with that thing, and your arms are dead," Zeegers said in a phone interview. "It will wear you out real quickly. ... It made me more consistent. Putting up that many shots will make you a more consistent shooter. I may not get as many opportunities to shoot some nights, but I'm going to make more of them count."
Zeegers has definitely done that, as he and the Red Raiders are off to a 3-1 start in Northwest Conference play.
Though Zeegers' time facing down The Gun certainly had the most noticeable impact in the scorebook, where he's been particularly good at knocking down 3-pointers this season, it's not the only area he worked to improve.
"Nick worked on all aspects of his game," Bellingham coach Ken Crawford said in a phone interview. "He's a guy that would like to play at the college level, and to do that, he knows he needs to get better at everything. Shooting and scoring are definitely a part of that, but he also realizes he's got to improve his rebounding and defense. I'm glad to see he's made those improvements, as well. He's definitely a young man with some goals in place, and he's working hard to attain them."
Crawford said it took Zeegers viewing a film of himself from last year to see how important improving defensively and getting better at boxing out on the boards was to not only his success, but that of his team.
"The film made me look weak my junior year," Zeegers said. "I definitely wanted to step up after I saw myself getting pushed around a little."
Fixing that meant Zeegers had to find his way to the weight room with a little more regularity during the offseason.
By adding muscle, Zeegers limited the chances he would get pushed around while trying to box out. The results have shown, as he has routinely pulled down between five and seven rebounds per game, Crawford said.
But it took another type of strength for Zeegers to improve his play on the defensive end of the court.
"It's really a mental mindset," Zeegers said. "You have to want to stop somebody. It's something I really wanted to work on."
And Crawford said it's an area Zeegers has made great strides in - so much so that Zeegers often asks to be put on an opponent's top scorer.
"That wasn't there a year ago," Crawford said. "It shows me he's developing a lot of confidence in his game."
It wasn't easy to get that confidence though. It took a lot of hard work.
Not only did it take a lot of time in the gym with just him and The Gun, or his mother or another friend rebounding and feeding him the ball, it took the hours he spent training and playing with his teammates and the hours in the weight room and some trips to a few select tournaments, including an AAU event in Las Vegas.
"That was an amazing experience," Zeegers said. "I got a chance to meet and play with some high-level guys. It was neat being in the same gym with them. Usually, I'm all alone in the gym and don't have any distractions."
All told, Zeegers estimated he spent 50 to 55 hours per week over the summer preparing for this season.
And there's little doubt that it is paying off for both the Red Raiders and himself.
College interest from some junior colleges, as well as a couple NCAA Division III and NAIA schools and even a few Division II programs has started to pick up, Zeegers said.
"I'll take whatever I can get," he said. "It's been a dream of mine. ... I started to take this game really serious during my sophomore year, and ever since then, I've just wanted to play college basketball. I fell in love with the sport, and I started thinking then that it might be a possibility."
And with Zeegers playing the way he has been playing, it's definitely a realistic possibility that Bellingham could advance to the postseason for the first time since the end of the 2008-09 season, when the Red Raiders went 0-2 in the Class 2A Northwest District Tournament.
Zeegers is one of four Bellingham players capable of scoring double figures on any given night.
Sophomore post Kailen Hayes leads the team with 14.0 points per game, while senior guard Alex Check is averaging 10.5. Senior Kyle Redmond has been flirting with a double-figure average, but currently checks in at 9.6 a game.
"We have a lot of depth on this team," Zeegers said. "Anybody can step up and be a scorer on any given night. Anyone can play defense, too. It's nice to have those kinds of options."
And with his hard work during the offseason, Zeegers has certainly opened up his options.
"He's a very dedicated young man, not only in basketball, but in the classroom," Crawford said. "He has a very good GPA. I think some college is going to be very fortunate to sign this young man."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.