By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
A year ago, Teutopolis posted a 26-7 record and won regional and sectional titles before being eliminated in the super sectional.
Gone from that team are five seniors – Brett Mette, Michael Drees, Devin Smith, Kyle Smith and Austin Johnson -- that either started or played a lot of minutes. That quintet also accounted for nearly 70 percent of the team’s points and rebounds.
For most programs, that means a rebuilding year is ahead.
But Teutopolis isn’t “most programs.”
As the old adage goes – they don’t rebuild; they just reload.
“It’s amazing,” admitted Jason Hanson, who will begin his second year as the Wooden Shoes head coach. “We lost the type of athletes and players we did, but we’re going to put a team on the floor that could be just as good. It’s a lot easier to take kids and compete when you have talent to work with each year.”
And Hanson certainly has a roster that appears loaded with talent. He figures to play nine kids and says all nine will contribute.
His concerns are rebounding and defense.
“I think we can be very good at both, but we’re going to have to work hard to do things the right way and be the best we can be,” Hanson admitted. “With the schedule we’re going to play, we’re going to face some good-sized teams and some talented teams.
“We won’t be as big as we’ve been in the past, but I think we’ll still have a good post presence,” the coach added. “And I think our guys will play well together. We should be able to get after some people defensively and get out in transition.”
Which leads directly to what Hanson describes as his team’s strengths.
“We’re more skilled offensively,” he said. “We have good shooters and ball handlers. We can put three or four guys on the floor at a time that can really shoot the ball. I’ll be shocked if some of these kids don’t shoot at a very high percentage.
“And everybody can handle the ball well relative to their position. Up and down the line we have really good ball handlers. I think teams will have a tough time pressing us and, hopefully, that results in us getting good shots at the offensive end.”
Hanson is not sure who his starting lineup will include. Three of the spots are penciled in, but six other players will battle for the two remaining starting positions or be included in the rotation.
T-Town has one returning starter in senior Mitch Hardiek, who will play the shooting guard position. He shot 43 percent from 3-point range a year ago and Hanson believes that will be even higher this season.
“Mitch has really improved,” the coach noted. “He will open some eyes with how hard he plays. He’s improved his shot, he’s a better athlete and he’s made it a point to be a better defensive player as well. He has the potential to be the best player I’ve ever coached.”
Seniors Chris Ungrund and Brant Bueker will also be starters – both at guard.
“Chris will be our point guard,” Hanson said. “He was our back-up last year and his ball handling is even better now. He makes outstanding passes at times. He will do a good job running the point. He’s a solid point guard and he’s probably our best defensive player.”
Hanson said Brant Bueker might be as good a shooter as Hardiek.
“He’s an extremely good shooter. He just figures out ways to score. He makes plays that leave you shaking your head at times trying to figure out how he does it. He’s a very smart player.”
The others battling for one of the two starting positions include seniors Lane Belleville, Blake Mette, Brock Bueker and Lucas Deters; and juniors Lee Hardiek and Eric Kremer.
Belleville is a 6’4” physical post player.
“Lane is a good rebounder and a good defensive player,” Hanson said. “He will score because he plays so hard, is a tough rebounder and runs the floor well.”
Hanson said Mette is a good athlete and a very good defensive player.
“He will help us on the boards. He’s a great kid to coach and fun to work with.”
Brock Bueker is similar to his twin brother Brant – and not just in looks.
“He’s a good shooter that finds ways to score,” Hanson said. “He has improved his defense and his rebounding. He will have a lot of playing time, whether he starts or not.”
Deters, a 6’4” post player, will be asked to help the team on the boards.
“He’s a really smart player that understands what he needs to do,” Hanson noted. “We need him to rebound, but he can also shoot it. He’s a pretty good offensive player.”
Lee Hardiek figures to play some point guard to relieve Ungrund. He’s an excellent ball handler and a good shooter.
Hanson says the 6’5” Kremer “might be the best athlete on the varsity. He’s a really talented kid that has a great shot.”
The Shoes will open their season Friday and Saturday in the Capital Classic. Their home opener will be Friday, Dec. 2 against Breese Central, just one of several tough opponents on this year’s schedule.
T-Town will also face St. Joe-Ogden, the defending Class 2A state champion; Taylor Ridge/Rockridge, who has played in the Class 2A state tournament the past two years; plus Breese Mater Dei, Centralia and Effingham.
“I like to play a tough schedule,” Hanson admitted. “When you have the kids to compete and play that tough competition, it’s good for you. Hopefully, that helps prepare you for the post-season.”
Because of the talent level, Hanson sees good competition every day at practice.
“It’s nice to have this talent. We definitely have competitive practices,” he said. “Last year, the JV team beat the varsity in practice several times. We’ve got the same thing this year. We’ve got kids that like to go out and compete.”
Hanson likes what he sees with this team.
“I know we’ve got a lot of talent,” he noted. “You never know how the season will turn out, but I feel good about our guys.
“We’re going to be able to score. But can we play defense at an elite level? Can we guard and rebound against the best teams we play?
“If we can play defense as good as I think we can and if we can rebound the way I think we can, we should be pretty good.”