ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
As the Centre High School boys’ basketball team entered last season, one of its top guns was reduced to shooting with a cap gun as Dustin Burnett was recovering from a broken leg suffered during the Cougar football season.
This year, sixth-year coach Russell Hake thinks Burnett will come out with guns a blazing.
“Dustin should be full strength this season,” Hake said of his 6-foot, 2-inch senior guard. “He already told me how much better he’s feeling than last year when he couldn’t even jump off his right leg. He’s feeling better about the whole situation and jumping a lot better.”
That’s good news for not only Hake, but all fans interested in Cougar basketball. Last season, Burnett averaged 15 points, four rebounds and three assists per game.
Even with Burnett at a less than 100 percent, the Cougars accumulated a 9-13 record, including a 3-4 mark in the Eisenhower League.
Centre returns two other starters in senior guard Bryant Gutsch (5-9) and junior guard Seth Jirak (5-9).
Gutsch, a two-year returning starter, scored four points, grabbed three rebounds and dished out three assists per contest, while Jirak added 11 points, five rebounds and one assist.
“Seth led the team in 3-point goals and was the second leading scorer and rebounder,” Hake said. “Bryant’s experience and court sense could prove to be valuable as we introduce some younger, less experienced players to the lineup.”
Hake also will rely on three other returning letter-winners for depth, all of them juniors.
Tad Remy (6-0) returns to his guard/forward position, Thieen Antoszyk (5-6) will occupy a guard position and Kevin Mueller (6-2) battles for time at forward.
“We’ll have to rely on Burnett for a little bit of post play because we don’t have a lot of height,” Hake said. “But as far as our league, we shouldn’t run into the 6-6 or 6-7 guys that we have in the past.”
The Cougars’ key strength will be their athleticism.
“Hopefully, quickness will be our greatest asset,” Hake said. “We hope to put a lot of pressure on defensively.
“With seven returning lettermen, we hope to be a little deeper on the bench than we have been in the past,” he added. “This should provide us the opportunity to play aggressive defense all over the court.”
One newcomer, Thomas Terreault, intends to break into the Cougar rotation after the holiday break after transferring from Herington.
Hake hopes along with defense, the offense will be able to create opportunities with its speed.
“We have to be able to handle the ball better than we did last year so we can push the ball up the court,” he said. “We were forced to slow it down last year because we just didn’t have the kids who could handle the ball that well. But we think we do this year.”
With an array of weapons at his disposal, Hake anticipates this is the season his team can shoot its way to the top of the league.
“Although we return seven players with varsity experience, many of those players were role players who saw limited time,” Hake said. “Early in the season, the lack of experience could play a part. But as those kids get used to playing together, we can only get better.
“We should be able to compete with everyone in the league.”