By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Like most basketball coaches about to start their season, Cody Rincker wonders how he will fill the points and rebounds lost due to graduation.
A year ago, the St. Anthony Bulldogs were a senior-led team that went 21-11, shared the National Trail Conference title with Altamont at 6-1, won a regional championship and advanced to the sectional final.
But gone are Nick Grunloh, James Kabbes, Kyle Hartke, Chandler Martelli and Jeff Niebrugge. Not only did that group score a majority of the points and pull down a majority of the rebounds, it was a group Rincker thought highly of.
“They really understood the intangibles that were needed to be successful,” Rincker said. “They didn’t always have the most talent, but they found other ways – like rebounding, defense and decision-making – to win games. I’m going to miss that a lot.”
But Rincker, who has won 62 games in his three seasons as the Bulldogs head coach, is excited about his fourth squad.
“I can’t wait. I really like the makeup of this year’s team,” he noted.
He mentioned instincts, teamwork and unselfish play as strengths of the 2016-17 club.
“These kids really seem to understand game concepts and strategies,” Rincker said. “And their teamwork has been great in practice. I’m impressed with the way they play and feed off each other. They seem to know where each other will be and when they’ll be there.”
Most of these kids have played together as freshmen and junior varsity without being split up and Rincker believes that is a positive.
“They also don’t care who scores. They just want to win,” the coach added. “There doesn’t appear to be any personal agendas. The only name they care about is the one across the front of their jersey.”
Rincker was worried about leadership after losing some key components from a year ago.
“I was concerned about who would step up and fill the leadership role. That could have been a big void for us,” the coach admitted.
But Drew Gibson, the only senior on the roster, has assumed that responsibility and Rincker is pleased.
“He’s our leader. He knows what it takes for our team to win and he’s able to convey that to the rest of the team.”
Despite losing so many points due to graduation, Rincker likes what he sees in his team’s offensive potential.
“I think we have a chance to have one of our better scoring groups,” he noted. “They seem to have a pretty good knack of putting the ball in the hole. At least that’s the way it’s been in practice. Now we’ll find out how we do when the games start.”
Rincker does have his concerns, however.
“Rebounding is definitely a concern,” he admitted. “Nick, James, Jeff and Kyle grabbed a lot of rebounds for us. They were strong, tough kids that had a knack of coming up with big rebounds when we needed them. Hopefully, we’ll be able to fill those through game experience. But we’re going to need some kids to step up.”
Tempo is another key.
“We want to play quick, but not in a hurry,” Rincker explained. “Having the potential to play fast doesn’t mean to play reckless. That’s something we have to keep under control.”
Rincker will also have to determine where his depth will come from.
“Last year, we had six seniors, plus there were four to five sophomores that I felt comfortable putting into the game,” he said. “This year, I don’t have that; at least not yet. Who is going to step up in practice and make that push? That’s something I’m looking for.”
Two of the starting positions are set.
Gibson led the team with a 12.5 scoring average, was second team all-conference and received some all-state recognition.
“I’m looking for Drew to take that next step,” Rincker said. “Defenses are going to key on him. He’s got to learn when to be ultra-aggressive and when to just take what the defense gives him. That’s part of his leadership role. He just needs to let the game come to him.”
Junior Cade Walsh will be the point guard. He was a starter toward the end of last year.
“He’s a guy that makes others better,” Rincker noted. “He has a knack of putting other players in good position to score, plus he knows how to get open for his shot. His instincts are what separate him from others.”
There are five juniors battling for the other three starting spots – Jack Nuxoll, Alex Deters, Adam Levitt, Alex Beasley and Brandon Runge, a 6’5” transfer from Altamont that sat out last year.
“Nuxoll and Deters are both lanky, athletic kids,” Rincker said. “They can play inside and outside. They are guys I’m looking to be defensive stoppers.”
Rincker is looking for Levitt, Beasley and Runge to help inside.
“All three can rebound and handle the ball well,” the coach said. “Offensively, all three can handle their own. It may come down to who rebounds and plays defense.”
Another junior that could earn playing time is Wyatt Lawrence. Rincker said he’s fast, athletic and has improved a great deal.
The Bulldogs opened their season at home by hosting the annual St. Anthony Thanksgiving Tournament. They will then open defense of their NTC title December 6 at Beecher City/Cowden-Herrick.
Rincker thinks Altamont is the team to beat in the conference, although he believes St. Elmo/Brownstown and his Bulldogs can compete as well. The Bulldogs have won the league title two of the last three years.
“Defense will definitely be a key to our season,” Rincker said. “It has to be there every night. When we stay focused and don’t lose interest, we’re pretty good. But that defense has to be there in big games and at key moments.
“I really like the cohesiveness of this team,” the coach added. “Even though we’re a younger overall team than in the past, they play well together. They seem to understand the game. I just hope that pays off when things start to break down. And in high school basketball, things do break down at times.”
Rincker said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the upcoming season.
“If these kids work hard and trust the process, we could have another successful season like last year; and maybe even better.”