COLFAX — In a game of word association, Ridgeview High School basketball coach Rodney Kellar is quick and concise with what comes to mind when he hears the name "Jacob Donaldson."
"Warrior," says Kellar, in describing his 6-foot-2 senior standout. "He's just a warrior. He's very, very aggressive, just all out. His motor goes on the offensive and defensive boards and he's a real threat facing the basket."
Donaldson's competitive, hard-nosed demeanor has resulted in an 18.8 points per game scoring average to go with his 8.8 rebounds per contest.
Combined with the 18.2 points and 6.7 rebounds of guard Justin Myers, as well as a surrounding cast of players Kellar calls "a real good fit from top to bottom," Ridgeview is 13-2 overall and 5-1 in the Heart of Illinois Conference heading into Friday's home game with Tri-Valley.
The Mustangs also are ranked No. 1 in the Class 1A state poll.
While averaging just under 60 points per game, Donaldson, Myers and the Mustangs have been limiting their opponents to 43.5 per outing.
Kellar is most proud of the latter statistic.
"That's been our forte to this point, our defense and consistency," he said. "We want to be the first team to 50 and in 13 of the 15 games we've held our opponent to under 50. We've been good on the boards and in trying to take care of the ball."
The Mustangs also have been exceptional in transition and in utilizing their vaunted, traditional three-quarter court press to force turnovers and create offense from their defense.
Myers, a 6-0 senior guard, leads the team with 4.1 steals per game, a preponderance of the swipes leading to layups.
"Justin's strength is he's a good finisher," Kellar said. "He fits well into our press with his athleticism. Like Jacob, he's an ultra-competitive kid and we kind of feed off that energy."
In their halfcourt offense, the Mustangs look often to Donaldson, whose journey through the Ridgeview program has taken him from the point to the post.
He played point guard from junior high through his sophomore year on the junior varsity. When he moved up to the varsity last year, the point guard slot was filled by four-year starter Tyler McCormick, with ballhandling duties also sometimes falling to multi-year standout Noah Young.
Kellar moved swiftly in finding a spot for Donaldson's raw talent.
"I was the tallest one on the team, so Coach put me in the post and worked with me a lot," said Donaldson.
Kellar says the decision went well beyond height alone.
"We moved him inside and it's been a blessing," Kellar said. "He's a hard matchup for a lot of people because of his skill level. He can face up and score, he can put the ball on the floor and score.
"The biggest thing about him is, he's been to the free throw line 124 times already this year (a little over eight times per game). You're getting players on the other team in foul trouble and he's a 70-plus percent free throw shooter on top of it."
Donaldson also is adept at finding open teammates on the perimeter and last year led the super-sectional qualifying Mustangs in assists.
Perimeter shooting is as much a Ridgeview trademark as its pesky press, but hasn't been as much of a factor this year.
"We've got guys that can hit 3's, but we're just more well-rounded than in the past," Kellar said. "It's more get the ball inside, rely on our defense, get to the free throw line. Those are the three things that make this team a little bit different."
While Donaldson and Myers grab headlines with their scoring and rebounding, Kellar likes the contribution of players up and down the roster who have, at one time or another, provided a key bucket, clutch rebound or a momentum altering deflection or steal.
"There's no doubt when you look from the outside in, Jacob and Justin are the two guys that a lot of people will target," Kellar said. "Fortunately for us, we've got a lot of other pieces that fit well."
Senior power forward Alex Tongate started every game and played nearly every minute on last year's Elite Eight team. Sophomore Levi Zimmerman grabbed some varsity minutes a year ago and has performed well as the starting point guard this season.
"Then we've got kind of a three-headed monster with Matt Nunamaker, Tristan Campbell and Juan Rios-Narciso, depending on whether we need offense or defense, or who's got the hot hand," Kellar said.
Following Friday night's game, Ridgeview begins play in the 107th McLean County Tournament at 5:30 p.m. Saturday against Blue Ridge at El Paso.
While shooting for their seventh consecutive 20-win season, the Mustangs also are seeking their fourth straight county tournament crown. They've been to the championship game five years in a row.
"We've had a great run with some great kids," Kellar said.
"We have guys that come out and compete every night and are ready to play every night," Myers said. "We just want to continue the legacy that we have and keep winning."