After losing nine seniors from last year, including all five starters, Creston head boys basketball coach Billy Hiatt expects there to be a little bit of an adjustment period for his team this year.
“Lost all five starters, so that’s one thing that is a big adjustment for us,” he said. “Friday night we’ll be starting guys who have never started a varsity game. Playing JV and playing varsity is a night and day difference. It’ll be an adjustment. I look for us to be a little jittery, have some butterflies early on. Hopefully we can control them stay in the game early on until we relax.”
The Panther boys open the 2013-14 season here Friday against Hawkeye 10 Conference opponent Glenwood.
Even thought Hiatt loses nine seniors from last year, he also returns five letterwinners from last year’s 19-4 team that finished second in the Hawkeye 10 Conference.
Seniors Cole Thompson, Cole Crawford and Brandon Phipps return, along with juniors Jay Wolfe and Alex Nielsen.
Those five will likely form the nucleus of this year’s team.
“They’ve had some minutes,” Hiatt said. “I look for them to continue what they did last year and play good team basketball. We’re going to look to build on that this year.
“Jay Wolfe is coming back,” he continued. “He’s gotten a little bit bigger, little bit stronger, little bit taller. I look for him to do some scoring. Cole Thompson’s got some really quick hands on defense. I look for him to be getting some steals down there for us. The other guys are just really good players. They all kind of play together.”
Wolfe spent the summer playing AAU basketball with a traveling team, which Hiatt said gave him the opportunity to work on having a scoring mentality. Crawford is a player Hiatt said can knock down shots from the perimeter.
With a different personnel group this year as opposed to last year, things could look a little different.
“We’ll give some teams some different looks and play good team basketball,” Hiatt said. “I look for us to get better as the year goes on for the simple fact of not a lot of playing experience. It may be a little rough early on, but we’ll get better as it goes.”
Hiatt said his team will likely spread the ball around more offensively this year, while trying to spread the floor. He expects to use some different defensive looks this season that he hasn’t employed in his previous two years at the helm of the Creston boys program.
“This year, we’ll have to be more creative to get buckets,” he said. “I think it’ll be exciting. It will probably be more up and down, just because with our lack of size, we’ll have to push the ball a little bit.”
Several players making the jump to the varsity level for the first time will provide Hiatt with depth in the backcourt.
Junior McClain Haines will back up the point guard position and also see some time at the two-guard position. Christian Groumoutis gives Hiatt a left-handed two-guard.
“McClain handles the ball pretty decent,” Hiatt said. “He’s got a good feel for the game. He does some stuff you really can’t coach with his athletic ability and the way he plays. Christian really improved his offensive game, so he’ll bring another gear for us.”
Junior Sam Hartsock is another player who has improved his ball-handling skills and will provide depth in the backcourt.
“I do have a sophomore — Cooper McDermott — was a real good cross country kid that is a competitor,” Hiatt said. “It’ll be interesting to see when I throw him to the wolves how he responds.”
Providing depth at the frontcourt positions are 6-4 senior Jon Birchard, 6-3 senior Evan Nielsen and 6-5 senior Trey Benson.
“We don’t have the size like we had in previous years,” Hiatt said. “Trey Benson does a nice job for us, but he’s 6-5 and then we drop down pretty quick. We’re not going to be one of those teams that just pounds it inside. Obviously, if they give it to us, we’ll go that route, but we’re going to have to use our speed to get some easy buckets in transition.”
The way Hiatt sees it, this year Harlan and Carroll Kuemper Catholic, both returning state qualifiers from last year, look to be the top two teams in the conference.
After that, it’s wide open.
Several teams in the conference have new coaches this year, making it unclear what the competition will look like. Teams with new coaches include Denison-Schleswig, Atlantic, Red Oak and Shenandoah.
“I think we have a chance to be right in the middle of it,” Hiatt said. “Depending on how we do and how we come together as a team will determine if we can challenge the top two teams in the conference.”
Council Bluffs St. Albert is also thrown into the mix this year, in its first season of play in the Hawkeye 10 Conference.
The Panthers will play ADM in a non-conference game at Wells Fargo Arena on Dec. 14. In a change to the schedule from previous seasons, the Panthers will host Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln this year.
Hiatt also has two new assistant coaches this year in former Orient-Macksburg standout and Central College player Michael West and freshman coach Anthony Donahoo.
“Michael does a good job,” Hiatt said. “He brings in kind of a different philosophy. We have similar views on stuff, but he knows how to score. That’s what he did when he played. He’s also helping the guys inside a little bit. The guys seem to be feeding off of him.”
(* — returning letterwinner)
Seniors — Cole Thompson*, Brandon Phipps*, Maxx Walters, Cole Crawford*, Jon Birchard, Carson Whittington, Evan Nielsen, Trey Benson, Michael Phelps.
Juniors — McClain Haines, Christian Groumoutis, Sam Hartsock, Jay Wolfe*, Alex Nielsen*, Jake Miller.
Sophomores — Cooper McDermott, Sam Eagan, Chris Foster, Travis Purdy, Ryan Kucera, Nick Walsh, Brandon Jones.
(* — game counts in Hawkeye 10
Dec. 6 — vs. Glenwood*, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 10 — at Shenandoah, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 13 — at Atlantic*, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 14 — vs. ADM at Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines), 5 p.m.
Dec. 17 — at Harlan, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 20 — at Kuemper Catholic, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 3 — at Denison-Schleswig*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 7 — at Lewis Central*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 10 — vs. Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 14 — at Red Oak*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 17 — vs. Denison-Schleswig, 6 p.m.
Jan. 20 — vs. Clarinda*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 24 — at Council Bluffs St. Albert*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 25 — vs. Winterset, 5 p.m.
Jan. 28 — vs. Kuemper Catholic*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 31 — vs. Shenandoah*, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 4 — at Glenwood, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 7 — vs. Red Oak, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 8 — vs. Atlantic, 5 p.m.
Feb. 14 — at Clarinda, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 18 — vs. Harlan*, 7:30 p.m.