Inexperienced Central boys basketball team will need to learn quickly

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Members of the Central boys basketball team are (front, left to right) Maxwell Schantz, Keshaun Foster, Henry Reimer, Caden Fette, Gabe Erickson, Jordan Everitt, Carson Ruegnitz; (back) Isaac Loan, Owen Hammersland, Vaughn Zittergruen, Jullian Singleton, Jake Hertrampf and Garrett Burns. (Photo by Alison Patenaude)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


The defining characteristic of this year’s Central boys basketball team can be found in the common phrase “baptism by fire,” a result of losing seven seniors to graduation and returning just two upperclassmen. The Warriors enter this season with at least 10 players with little to no varsity experience who will be forced into varsity action.


“They’ll be tasked with kind of growing up in a hurry,” said coach Brady Stramer. 


Entering his fifth year as Warrior coach, Stramer looks to build on last year’s seven-win season and seventh place conference finish with a young and somewhat inexperienced group of athletes. Even so, expectations remain the same, starting with each athlete coming to practice and being coachable. 


What that means for Stramer is they are willing to learn from mistakes, whether it’s during practice or in a game. Learning from those mistakes will prevent stagnation and lead to improvement. 


There is an expectation students will watch game film on their own time, studying up on opponents outside practice, which will inevitably help them improve. Finally, being coachable means taking advice and constructive criticism because, at the end of the day, everything is geared toward improving. 


Getting the kids to that point requires a coach who puts in the work, and Stramer, who prides himself on putting in the time on scouting, watching tape and preparing the team for every game, is certainly dedicated to the process. 


“I don’t want my players to see something new when they get in the game. We should have that already wrapped in practice,” Stramer said. 


Beyond that, improving requires developing schemes which put the athletes in the best position to win. It’s why Stramer models the scheme around the players, rather than creating a scheme and forcing the players to fit into it. 


It’s also an adaptable process, allowing the scheme to naturally evolve depending on the opponent and outside factors like injuries, foul trouble and the aforementioned inexperience. 


It requires what Stramer called “connectivity.” It’s a word that will be preached a lot this season because the Warriors will need all five players on the court on the same page, knowing their roles and where they’re supposed to be on any given offensive and defensive play. They will also need to understand all five spots on the floor due to the low team number and underclassmen still learning. 


Alongside connectivity, the other buzzword is team chemistry, which shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. Despite the team’s youth, most have played together for a few years, through junior high or longer, so some of that already exists within the roster. However, this team, like many of the Warrior programs, will also hold team-building activities like trivia nights and team meals. 


That’s mostly off the court. When it comes to on the court, it’s about knowing your teammates’ strengths and where they will find the most success. It will lead to better screens, passes, shots, blocks and overall play. All of this relies on trusting teammates, something Stramer admitted “is easy to say, but comes with time also.”


“That’s how you become connected because everyone understands where they’re going to be and what they can do well,” Stramer said. “Once you understand what you can do, what your teammates can do, and you put all that together, that’s kind of the end goal.”


Stramer is looking for steady improvement. For example, since the Warriors play every conference opponent twice, the goal is to perform better the second time around. Doing so should assist in the other season goal of giving the underclassmen more confidence for when they likely return the following season. They will be more prepared and confident to carry the load. 


“I tell parents at the parent meeting, we’re going to be better in February than we are in November,” Stramer said. 


One way Stramer has tried to prepare the younger players is during open gyms in the summer, when coaches can work on instructional material and lead drills, treating it as if it’s a normal practice. Out of this developed one of the team’s strengths: reliability. They are a committed group and responsible. 


Another strength should be speed. What the Warriors lack in size and strength, they will make up for in quickness. Stramer also noted Central is a good ball handling team, which will be necessary with the graduation of Elliot Kelly, last year’s leader in assists, and leading scorer Dan McGreal. 


The team returns senior Gabe Erickson, who was fourth in assists and second in points last year, but he is the only player with more than four starts. 


This leads to the most glaring concern for the upcoming year: inexperience. The other upperclassman is Jordan Everitt, who played in 10 games overall last season, but wasn’t a major contributing factor. The only junior on the team is Vaughn Zittergruen, who played in 13 games a year ago, coming away with seven rebounds, five assists and three points. 


The only other member of the team with significant varsity experience is sophomore Isaac Loan, who started four games and played in 19, finishing with 31 rebounds, 10 assists, 15 steals and 91 points. 


To try to overcome this obstacle, Stramer will rely on showing more film to the team, so they can see what everything looks like when it’s done correctly, and so they can see it performed well before they have to do it. It’s adding another visual layer to the teaching method. 


The rest will rely on the coachability of the athletes and how adept they are at handling the fire they’re being thrown into. 


Another concern for the Warriors is lack of size, which hinders the team’s rebounding ability. While Stramer provided the quote, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog,” it’s not stopping him from practicing for bigger teams. 


In practices, assistant coaches who are taller and stronger than the players will scrimmage against the team, preparing them to play against larger, physically stronger opponents when the season officially starts. Players will also have to learn to rebound as a committee, with all five players on the floor noticing the shot go up and blocking out efficiently to get the rebound. As Stramer noted, “shots you don’t get are shots you give away.” 


Finally, one thing that has plagued previous Warrior teams has been turnovers. Although last season was Central’s best under Stramer, there is always room for improvement. One method of improvement is making practice harder than in-game situations, such as playing with six or seven defenders, forcing the offense to break the press defense. Or simply playing through the press after running sprints, which puts more emphasis on passing and avoiding turnovers.


“We try to make practices as hard as we can, so that, when the game comes, it’s not a shock to the system,” Stramer said. 


There is one weakness Stramer believes is a strength, though, and that is scoring. While the Warriors lost the players responsible for 855 of last year’s 1,128 points, there isn’t a single player for opponents to key in on. With a committee of shooters focused on quality shots, it could open the floor more for scoring opportunities, with a different player shining every game. 


“Emphasizing shot selection will be key. In ball movement, those two things kind of go together. The more you move the ball, usually the better shots you’re going to get and not really caring about who’s taking the shot. It’s just about the quality of the shot,” Stramer said. 


What matters most, though, is simply improving, remaining positive and creating a team culture that teaches life lessons that go beyond the court. An example of this improvement-based metric is last year’s series against Central City, in which the Warriors lost the first game by 43 points but only lost the second by five. 


That, for Stramer, is evidence of improvement and a committed, engaged team that focuses on the little things.


Central’s season opener will be Tuesday, Nov. 28, against Kee.

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