MIDDLEBURY — If you're looking for a nickname for Nate Ritchie, call him Dr. Dunk.
Elkhart Memorial, among others, will vouch for the "dunk" part after Ritchie hammered down five of those babies against the Crimson Chargers in a game a few weeks ago.
As for the "doctor" part, that's something Ritchie is aiming for down the road.
More imminently, he's aiming to lead overall No. 17-ranked Northridge to its first Class 4A boys basketball postseason title when the favored Raiders compete next week in the Elkhart Sectional at North Side Gym. Northridge (18-2) has a bye and will play in the semifinals on Friday, March 7, against the Concord/Memorial survivor.
Elkhart County Boys Career Scoring Leaders
1. Shawn Kemp (Concord 1990) 2,134
2. Dean Weirich (Northridge 1972) 1,823
3. Ryne Lightfoot (NorthWood 2006) 1,673
4. Brent Eaton (Northridge 2008) 1,564
5. Andy Hirschy (NorthWood 1995) 1,552
6. John Ritter (Goshen 1969) 1,523
7. Jamar Johnson (Concord 1990) 1,456
8. Nate Ritchie (Northridge 2014) 1,359
9. Derek Drews (Elkhart Central 2005) 1,358
10. Garvin Roberson (Elkhart 1970) 1,355
In the 6-foot-7 Ritchie, the Raiders feature Elkhart County's most potent scorer in eight years. He's averaging 23.8 points per game, on pace for the best figure by a county player since Ryne Lightfoot averaged 24.9 for NorthWood in 2005-06.
A versatile forward with guard range, Ritchie entered his team's regular-season finale at DeKalb shooting 60 percent on 2s, 83 percent at the line and 35 percent on 3s (16-of-26). A year ago he was the lone underclassmen on The Elkhart Truth's All-Area first team.
But there's more to Ritchie than basketball.
"It seems like a lot of people are surprised to find out I'm prettty smart," Ritchie said with a laugh this past week.
The senior carries a 4.2 grade point average on Northridge's weighted schedule.
While he hasn't ruled out playing professionally if that opportunity presents itself after college, Ritchie intends to major in biology and plans to follow that up by attending medical school.
"Hard to tell," Ritchie said of what area of medicine he might pursue, "because there's such a process involved, but I do want to stay close to athletics, so maybe an orthopedic surgeon or something else in orthopedics."
Ritchie has an NCAA Division I basketball scholarship offer from the University of Toledo, which he says "has a fantastic medical school," has other offers to consider and hasn't ruled out trying to walk on at a DI. He may not make his decision until after the season.
And the longer the season goes, the better.
"We've got a pretty tight team that loves each other," Ritchie said of the Raiders, who have surged ahead from their 10-12 mark of last winter, when they lost 64-57 in the Elkhart Sectional final to Warsaw.
"We can't take anyone lightly, but if we play together, we've got a chance," Ritchie said of Northridge being in the role of favorite. "The biggest thing is on the defensive end. We've got to be strong, because it seems like there's always sectional games that are 25-25 going into the fourth quarter."
Ritchie addressing the defensive end is something sure to warm Northridge coach Ronnie Thomas. By Ritchie's own admission, his defense has long lagged behind his offense, and a year ago, Thomas said it was where his star player most needed to improve.
"Nate's always had some knack for scoring," Thomas said this past week, "but he's really stepped up this year in areas like defense, rebounding, taking care of the ball. He's shown an incredible level of maturity this year. He's had a target on his back from (opposing) defenses and has handled it well. He's been a great leader, and he's found more ways to score. He's also had guys around him step up, and I think he sees how crucial that is."
Ritchie credits Thomas, a former Northridge standout center and DI player, with helping "me develop my post game and a lot else. It's great having someone who's had his experiences to listen to."
And Ritchie credits his father, Darrel, with exposing him to basketball at a young age and being his first coach in youth leagues.
The 6-2 Darrel Ritchie was a three-year varsity player at Northridge for Irv Pratt before graduating in 1983, averaging 9.2 points as a senior.
Nate's mom is Kerri, and his sister, Hannah, is a freshman volleyball player at Northridge.
While Ritchie played "a lot of sports" as a youngster, he "pretty much" gave up the others to concentrate on basketball around eighth grade.
"I love to golf in the spring and summer," Ritchie said. "It's my get-away from everything, but it's just recreational. My focus in the summers is AAU basketball."
As for high school basketball, Ritchie's been known to show flashes of extreme excitement on the court, but those have typically been spontaneous and non-extended.
"I don't ever try to be emotional," Ritchie said. "It just comes as part of the game. I don't even know it's going on until somebody talks about it. I'm just caught up in the game and our team and trying to make big plays."