SMNW boys must fill void on offense
Not many area high school basketball teams lost what the Shawnee Mission Northwest boys lost to graduation in 2011.
The Cougars lost their top three scorers in Trey Fruehling, Drew Goodger and MO-KAN All-Star Game MVP A.J. Spencer. The trio represented more than 70 percent of Northwest’s scoring last year and left as one of the most highly accomplished senior classes in Cougar history.
So Northwest head coach Mike Rose knew what his team would be searching for beginning with tryouts and first week of practice — leadership and offense.
So far, the leadership has stepped up with senior guard Blake Evans and senior forward Jackson Foth ready to revive their roles as starters for the Northwest varsity squad. The two will be asked to captain a unit that will feature a healthy mix of veterans and first-year varsity players.
Rose believes that Evans and Foth are more than up for the task.
“They’re going to be our leaders,” Rose said. “They’ve played a lot of basketball. They’re going to be the guys who have been there and who we rely on.”
Still, the issue of scoring and leadership when others are on court without either of the senior co-captains is unsettled.
It’s an issue that will take time for an answer to develop.
“We’re trying to fill a lot of gaps that are left open,” Rose said. “A lot of things might change quite a bit before Christmas. It’s certainly a lot more open. We’re trying to keep things familiar offensively and defensively for them right now so we can develop some kind of comfort level with the basics. A lot of those guys who have been with us through the summer showed some potential. It’s just all about getting in there and fulfilling that role.”
Three other seniors — post player Bill Graves, Chase Rader and Logan Unrein — will also be on the varsity squad along with junior forward Marcus McNease to provide more veteran leadership. A mix of nine juniors and four sophomores will make up the rest of the roster competing for varsity minutes.
“We’re going to be young,” Rose stated, “but we’re going to bring up some of these guys and see who wants varsity minutes.”
Even with all the new varsity players and the younger athletes vying for playing time, Rose believes that one of his senior captains has a great chance of being one of the Cougars’ primary scoring options.
“Jackson (Foth) has the potential to be a kid who can score for us,” Rose said. “We can move the ball through him.”
Still, with the rest of the scoring options still unsettled, Rose has chosen to make defense the emphasis of the early practices. For this year’s Cougars, the attitude is going to be to stop the other team’s scoring before they start their own.
“We talk a lot about defense,” Rose said. “That’s what we can control early in the season until we can find that consistent scorer. We’re trying to keep things really simple. We’re going to go into our first game not trying to be too fancy. We’re going to make sure our execution is where it needs to be. Trying to over-complicate some of these things is asking for trouble. We’re going to be aggressive with our rebounding and play sound, fundamental defense.”
For Rose, there’s no question about who the team to beat in the Sunflower League will be for the upcoming season.
“I think you start out talking about Olathe Northwest,” Rose said. They’re the top of our league, no question. Olathe East and Olathe South will be right at the top also, and deservedly so. Our league is just tough every single night. A lot of us coaches are going to have long nights.”
Northwest will open the season with back-to-back contests in the first week of December. On Dec. 2, the Cougars will travel to Shawnee Mission West for a season-opener against the Vikings. The Cougars will then return home Dec. 3 to play host to Junction City.