Return only one starter from 22-5 team, but appear to have more versatile, quicker club in 2018-19 heading into twice-delayed Nov. 28 season opener
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
Much like their gender-counterpart Lady Hornets a year ago, the 2018-19 Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets have a large senior core of a very successful predecessor team to replace this winter.
They’d likely accept emulating what last year’s girls’ team did in the similar situation, win twice as many games as they lose, but early indications are that they might be interested in doing more and perhaps even approaching the success level of last season, when CHS had its best boys’ season – in terms of wins and losses – in 20 years.
As head coach Tim Cool and his back-intact coaching staff prep this season’s Hornets, what is missing, in terms of experience, toughness, and cohesion, with the departure of seven graduated players who had played together for years and years, is being replaced and balanced out by an uncharacteristic (for CHS) combination of height and mobility in depth.
While the eventual result might not match last winter’s stellar 22-5 record which saw a team record broken for team field-goal shooting success (55.43 percent), it could come closer than – or, in some aspects, surpass – what ordinarily might seem likely.
“I’m excited about this team,” Cool says as preparations continue for what now will be the Hornets’ season opener against what could be a shorthanded Maryville team next Tuesday night in the first round of the Savannah Invitational Tournament. “They’re playing really hard and we’ve had good practices. They are really hungry to improve.”
This year’s squad appears likely to try to play transition offense more than in most years.
“We want to get out and run,” the head coach confirms. “The thing we have to make sure and do is rebound (on defense) first. We have to be a good rebounding team if we’re going to run the floor. We’ve got to secure defensive rebounds and then run and we need all five guys to rebound.”
The Hornets were due to begin their season last night at Hamilton, but Hamilton’s football season didn’t conclude until last Saturday, so that varsity game has been postponed until Jan. 15.
Ironically, continuation of football play and this year’s unique 2-week overlap of the high school football and basketball seasons also will impact what now becomes Chillicothe’s boys’ opener. Maryville’s football team will play in the state semifinals this Saturday, meaning, even if the Spoofhounds lose that gridiron game, several members of the MHS basketball roster will have, at most, two opportunities to practice with their non-football hoops teammates before taking on Chillicothe.
Should Maryville advance to the football state title game, the ’Hounds’ basketball roster for Tuesday’s game against CHS’ Hornets will be significantly reduced, in terms of talent level, turning what should be another excellent MHS squad, once fully assembled, into a mix of varsity and junior-varsity talent.
Chillicothe, on the other hand, will bring to next Tuesday’s 7 p.m. debut a starting lineup which likely will four 6’2” or 6’3” players, each of whom has speed and mobility that could make this year’s Hornets more of a transition team than any Cool has had in his seven successful years at the CHS helm.
Of the projected starters, only one – 6’3” junior Westley Brandsgaard – is a returnee in that role, but he’s a very good building block.
A wing guard/forward who loves to drive, yet who seems to have sharpened his long-range shooting, Brandsgaard nearly doubled his fine 7.3 scoring average as a freshman to a team-leading 13.4 points per game last year. He topped the team’s scoring in 17 of last year’s 27 outings and figures to match or exceed that as a junior.
A solid ballhandler and ferocious offensive rebounder, he supplements his ability to score from the floor – whether inside or out – with excellent free-throw shooting prowess. He got to the foul line for 128 attempts last year and sank 84 percent of them, third-best in Hornets history.
Not to be discounted is Brandsgaard’s defense. With his combination of size – both height and bulk – and basketball savvy, he’ll usually be matched up against the opposition’s most-dangerous offensive player in CHS’ man-to-man defense.
The next-most-experienced 2018-19 Chillicothe player will be a classmate of Brandsgaard’s, lanky point guard C.J. Pfaff.
A depth shooting guard who made his presence felt often a year ago, the 6’2” Pfaff averaged six points a game while getting into all except one contest as a sophomore. He knocked down a solid 48 percent of his 2-points attempts and 33 percent of his 3-pointers and was a 67 percent marksman from the charity stripe.
This year, he’ll be the court general from the point, where his height allows him great court vision and his and court sense a feel for passing lanes to set up teammates. Despite his reserve’s role last year, he tied for second-most assists on the team at just under two per game. His assists-per-minutes-played average probably would have been the team’s highest.
“We’ve got guards who see the floor really well,” Cool assesses. “C.J., running the point and running the floor, with his height, he sees well over the defense. Great passer, so, if we’ll get out and run, he’ll find them.”
While Brandsgaard and Pfaff, teammates throughout their school careers, rate as seasoned varsity veterans, despite being only juniors, the rest of the lineup is largely unproven and untested, though very promising.
The saltiest of the other likely starters is 6’3” senior Peyton Forck, a reserve forward/center last year who flashed real potential, but couldn’t stay healthy.
Fast and quick-jumping and with reasonably-good shooting and passing ability, he got into only eight ’17-’18 games before getting hurt over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period. Before then, he had three games in a row when he scored either six or eight points off the bench.
With his height and athleticism, Forck could be very effective inside at both ends of the court and his running speed will make him dangerous in transition.
Another senior, 6’2” William Perry, got lots of development time on the junior-varsity level last year and now figures to form the Hornets’ starting inside duo with Forck.
Like his classmate, he brings mobility and good jumping ability to the mix and will be looked to primarily to defend and pound the backboards. Most of his points will come from short range off teammates’ passes and on putbacks.
“We have a lot of those guys that are athletic and long,” Cool acknowledges. “That’s a really nice thing to have in basketball, because that length can really change things for the other team, as far as passing angles and rebounding and things like that.”
The fifth starter, at least at season’s start, figures to be sophomore guard Mason Baxter. The speedy, 5’9” player has good strength and might make his biggest impact as a physical perimeter defender, but he has shown scoring ability at the junior-varsity, freshman, and junior-high levels.
Contending for playing time at guard will be another of the lanky, athletic stable Cool has at his disposal, 6’2” junior Bradley Riley, as well as sophomore Hayden Simmer, a 5’10” prospect whose 3-point shooting ability currently is his primary calling card. Junior Hunter Rader and sophomore Eli Cross also are battling to get some early-season minutes to make an impression.
The combination of height, speed, athleticism, and lanky frames might prompt development and greater use of different defensive strategies at times or against particular opponents, confirms Cool.
“It probably does give us a little more ability to do more things defensively,” the staunch advocate of physically-tough man-to-man defending acknowledges.
Providing depth at small forward will be 6’ senior Hunter Swift and seniors Michael Riddle – another mobile, 6’2” type – and Matt Smith, a sturdy 6-footer, will be counted on to spell Perry and Forck. The forward group’s general lack of experience at season’s start likely is the team’s most-signficant shortcoming.
Also helping provide depth will be senior Matt Anthony, junior Landon Swift, and sophomore Carter Allen – all guards.
Through the first few weeks of practices, the “Meet the Hornets” intrasquad scrimmage, and “jamboree” interscholastic scrimmages, Cool liked what he had seen.
“I feel like these guys are working really well together and the chemistry’s been good,” he shared last Friday. “It’s kind of a new unit and you always wonder how that (chemistry) is going to develop, but they’re doing a great job.
“They’re playing for each other already, working hard in practice and pushing each other, so I’m very pleased.”
The delayed start to game play, due to the football complications, probably is a positive for the Hornets, given the number of new players being integrated into the varsity squad.
Cool states the first goal for early-season game play is “getting everybody on the same page.
“… It’s a new unit, a new bunch of guys, and getting them all together and moving in the right direction (is important). We’ve got a great start to that.”