Trojan boys short on experience, but long on talent

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This group of seniors and letter-winners will form the base of the Hillsboro boys? basketball aspirations for 2007-08. Pictured from left are Gavin Serene, Daniel Jost, David Loewen, Clay Shewey and Mitchell Koop. Jost is the only returning with significant varsity playing time as the Trojans lost eight athletes to graduation, injury or departure. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press.

Despite some adversity even before the start of the season, Hillsboro High School boys? basketball coach Darrel Knoll is looking for his fresh-look Trojan squad to improve on last year?s 11-11 record.

Knoll knew he?d be losing seven key players from last year?s team, but a knee injury to returning point guard Spencer Brown late in the football season has changed the tenor of the upcoming campaign.

The senior averaged just over 5 points per game last year, but his biggest contributions were on defense and as a motivator.

?Spencer was a leadership guy,? Knoll said. ?He?ll still come to practice and can still have a valuable role on this team in terms of his leadership and his ability to encourage people.

?We?ll miss his defense because he was a tenacious player,? he added. ?But he?ll still be able to be part of the team, which we really appreciate.?

With Brown?s injury and the loss of seven other players, the Trojans will need to replace more than 90 percent of their point production from a year ago.

Knoll is actually encouraged about the prospect of doing that?and more?with the new faces who will fill those vacancies.

?I think it?s the kind of team that can put some points on the board,? Knoll said of his squad. ?I think it definitely will be a different look than we?ve seen in the last year or two.

?Hopefully, we?ll be able to get up and down the court a little bit, but we should have the ability to score inside and out a bit more consistently than we did last year.

?That remains to be seen, of course.?

Top returners

Knoll?s lone player with considerable varsity experience is junior Daniel Jost, who is beginning his third season in a varsity role.

Jost, at 6-feet, 2-inches, averaged just over 6 points and three rebounds per game last year. This year, he will move into the point-guard role in Brown?s absence.

?Daniel has the ability to play many different positions,? Knoll said. ?I think he?ll do well there and be able to help the team out both in handling the ball and doing other things offensively.

?Daniel?s job, then, would be more a distributor, and a rebounder and finisher?shooting the outside shot won?t necessarily be his primary responsi?bil?ity on the team.?

Knoll said he believes he has other players who can fill that role.

Chief among them is Clay Shewey, who saw limited varsity time as a sophomore last year, but is developing into a key contributor for Hillsboro on the offensive end.

Part of that development is physical?he grew 5 inches since last year and stands at a lean 6-3. His basketball skills have grown as well, according to Knoll.

?Clay is a great shooter and he?s got nice height,? Knoll said. ?I think Clay will be one of the guys that will be able to pose a lot of problems for the other team, especially if we?re able to get him working inside.

?He?s got good length and he?s been working really hard in the offseason in terms of improving his shot and being a little stronger with the ball. I think he?s ready to step into the varsity scene and be a good player.?

Another weapon on the perimeter is senior Gavin Serene, who offsets his slight build (5-6) with dead-eye shooting skills.

?Gavin got some playing time last year and scored some key baskets in a few games,? Knoll said. ?Gavin?s always been a good shooter and knows the game really well. If Gavin plays within himself and understands his role, he?ll be a very good part of the team.?

David Loewen is another player who has been preparing to make an impact at the varsity level. The 6-5 junior should bolster the Trojans? inside game.

?David Loewen has all kind of ability, basketball-wise,? Knoll said. ?He?s spent a good deal of time working on his game. Now that he?s an upperclassman and is in a role where he feels he?s the man, I think we could see some really great things out of David around the basket. He?s a guy who plays hard and seems to have a joy for the game.?

Another budding junior, Andy Klassen, should make contributions in a variety of roles at 6-1.

?Andy has worked pretty hard and he?s gotten more athletic,? Knoll said. ?From what I can tell, he?s improved his game from last year. He?s the kind of guy who?s willing to fill whatever role he needs to fill in order to make the team successful. I?m certainly looking forward to his time on the court.?

Mitchell Koop (5-7), who joins Serene as the Trojans? only other senior, will add depth off the bench.

?Mitchell is kind of a role player,? Knoll said. ?Last year, as part of the junior varsity, he made many key baskets and came up with some plays at key times. I think Mitchell will be a good contributor.?

Knoll welcomes one promising newcomer to Trojan basketball in Robbie McClelland (5-7), who is playing this year after wrestling for Hillsboro last year upon moving here from Valley Center.

?He played when he was younger,? Knoll said. ?He?s pretty quick and he?s a competitor. If we get him understanding the system a little more, he could be a real contributor.?

Inexperienced but competitive

Knoll is optimistic about the mix of players who will take the court even though it will be somewhat inexperienced at first.

?We?ve got some younger guys who have the ability to step into some good varsity roles,? he said. ?Essentially we?ll have a solid base, and we just need to find some guys to fill in around them, come off the bench and develop some depth.?

Knoll sees depth as being a challenge as the season opens.

?We won?t have as much depth as we?ve had, at least at the start of the year,? he said. ?Hopefully, as we get into it we?ll develop some really good depth.?

Knoll sees scoring potential as a team strength.

?Offensively, we have some guys who can really score,? he said ?I think the guys understand the game, offensively. It?s just a matter of us putting together a good offense and working on our timing.?

He said the team has the ability to move the ball up court quickly, but won?t necessarily prioritize the fast break.

?We can get the ball down the court and look for some opportunities, even on the secondary break,? he said. ?Last year we really missed an outside shooter. This year I think we have more than a couple of guys who can knock down a shot.

?That might allow us to open it up in the inside as well,? he added.

Man defense will continue to be a Trojan cornerstone.

?Last year we were basically man, and this year we?ll certainly stay with the base of our man defense as we always have,? Knoll said. ?We?ll look for different ways to change it up and utilize the strengths we have defensively.?

Key opponents

Knoll looks for Wichita Collegiate, the defending Class 3A state champion, as well as Smoky Valley and Hesston to be strong contenders again in the Mid-Central Activities Association?and beyond, for that matter.

But he intends for his Trojans to be in the mix as well.

?I think this team will be very competitive,? he said. ?We play Collegiate twice, Smoky twice and Hesston maybe twice?those are some of the top teams in the area in their respective classes. It?s not like we have an easy schedule.

?On the other hand, we do have some guys who have good knowledge of the game. I wouldn?t envision this as a team that would go out there not playing to win. Anytime we do that, I think we can be successful.?

Knoll said he likes what he?s seen in preseason practices.

?Each practice has progressively gotten better,? he said. ?The guys are working hard and I think they?re trying to fine-tune their skills and learn how to play together.

?I don?t know how long it?s going to take before we feel like we?re where we want to be or where we should be. Hopefully, we?ll continue to improve all the way through the season and make a good run at the end.?

The Trojans open the season with the Cheney Cardinal Classic. Hillsboro?s first game of the eight-team tournament will be at Lindsborg on Monday, Dec. 3, against Smoky Valley. The following night, Hillsboro will play host to Cheney in Brown Gymna?sium.

On Saturday, Dec. 8, all teams converge on Cheney for the final round of games.

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