ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
If winning is contagious, Marion boys’ basketball coach Rex Ostmeyer hopes his team is infected.
“Our football team’s success helps us a lot,” Ostmeyer said. “We try to piggyback off their success, especially in a small school where you’re utilizing basically the same kids.
“These kids know how to win and our emphasis is to play with confidence.”
Ostmeyer embarks on his fourth season with a 32-32 record. Last year the Warriors finished 8-13 overall and 4-7 in their first season in the Mid-Central Activities Association.
“Being in the second year in this league we’ll know more of what to expect,” Ostmeyer said. “We no longer doubt that we belong in this league because we proved last year that we can pretty much play with anybody.”
Ostmeyer and his Warriors will compete this season with two returning junior starters and a blend of veterans with significant varsity experience and some with little experience.
“A number of our players have at least some varsity experience, but this will be the first time when this group of seniors will be counted on to carry a heavier load,” Ostmeyer said. “They’re a good group of kids and they’re very talented, but they have to transfer their junior-varsity success to the varsity level.
“Our senior class is a great group of kids and I’m looking forward to this season.”
Returning juniors Jason Hett (6-foot, 1-inch) and Travis Hett (6-1) are the only returning starters.
“These are two of the better players in the league,” Ostmeyer said. “They had times when they were a little unsure as sophomores, but they’ve been there now and the sky’s the limit for both of them.”
Hett averaged 10.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
“He has no real weakness in his game,” Ostmeyer said. “He scores, rebounds and defends-and he’s very athletic. He can run, jump and he’s very fast with the basketball. If he develops a little more consistency, he’ll be fun to watch.”
Travis Hett averaged 9.8 points and 2.2 rebounds.
“Travis needs to use his athletic ability to set up his 3-point shot rather than use his 3-point shot as his only offensive weapon,” Ostmeyer said. “But he’s very athletic as well.”
Ostmeyer said this year’s class of six seniors are waiting to showcase their abilities.
Josh Kelsey (6-0) averaged only 1.1 points last season, but Ostmeyer said he is the type of athlete who can shoulder a heavier burden this year.
“Josh is a great leader and a very competitive kid,” he said. “He was a scorer on the junior varsity last year and he needs to use his strength and athleticism to be an all-round player for us on the varsity.
“It’s just a matter of confidence and when he decides to let loose, he’s going to do some good things for us.”
Russell Ploutz (6-0) averaged 0.4 points last season.
“He was a reserve post player for us last year and he’s not that big for a post player, but he has some great athletic abilities and he’s a hard worker,” Ostmeyer said. “He’s going to be a guy we need to be a defender, rebounder and he needs to be able to finish inside.”
Jeremy Vondenkamp (6-0) averaged 1.7 points last year.
“Jeremy just needs to work hard and gain some confidence,” Ostmeyer said. “He needs to use those athletic abilities to his advantage.”
Jeff Richmond (6-2) averaged 0.7 points last season but Ostmeyer believes he is set for a breakout year.
“I’m really excited about Jeff because I really feel he can do some great things-but I just don’t know if Jeff knows that yet,” he said. “It’s all about aggressiveness and if he plays with confidence, he could give us some great balance.”
Another senior with potential is David DeForest (5-10) who averaged 0.5 points a year ago.
“I can’t wait for the season because in the system we’re going to run, he’ll be very effective,” Ostmeyer said.
“He doesn’t fear making mistakes and he doesn’t worry about a lot of things. Usually, when you have that attitude, you end up with really positive results.”
The sixth senior is Clayton Garnica (6-0).
“We have to find a role for Clayton,” Ostmeyer said. “He shoots the ball well and he’s a kid we need to play well for depth if we want to play the faster pace.
Other players pushing for court time are juniors Emmanuel Jackson (6-0) and Kyle Hett (5-11) along with sophomore Calvin Jeffrey (5-6).
“Calvin will play quite a bit,” Ostmeyer said. “If he steps up and plays as well as he can, that will allow us to move some other guys to more natural positions.”
“Emmanuel can work himself into some playing time just because of his athletic ability,” Ostmeyer said. “He’s very explosive, and when you’re trying to play a 32-minute game, a guy like that can come in handy if he’s disciplined.”
“Kyle ended up coming on strong at the end of last season,” Ostmeyer said. “He could really end up helping us, too.”
Because Marion lacks a dominant post player like Dale Vogel from a season ago, Ostmeyer said he is modifying the offense.
“I don’t want to have to set up in the half court very often,” he said. “That’s not to say we’re going to just come down an jack it up, but we want to try to get offense off our defense and pressure people.
“Hopefully, our kids will be well-conditioned and we’ll wear a lot of people down,” he added. “We need to figure out a way to overcome our lack of size. If that means playing 32 minutes of pressure, we’ll do it.”
Ostmeyer said he has a lot of leadership on this team but he’s not sure anyone is vocal enough to step forward and take control.
“Both Travis and Jason are quiet, but no one on this team is very outspoken,” he said. “But they’re a close-knit group.
“They can also take constructive criticism because they want to be a better team,” he said.
Success depends on the Warriors’ ability to defend, according to Ostmeyer.
“We need our defense to force turnovers and force quick shots,” he said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve been small, and it probably won’t be the last. You just take what mom and dad give you and you go from there.”
Ostmeyer is assisted by coaches Terry Edwards and David Hett.
“I hope this team will be defined by 32 minutes of toughness,” Ostmeyer said. “Our biggest problem last year was late in the game, and we need to work on our mental toughness in that area.
“We’re going to be very small but very athletic, and we hope to use that to our advantage.”