Gielczyk: Brethren Adjusting Under Randall
Jonathan Randall acknowledges that the Brethren boys basketball team is going through a learning curve right now, and that includes him as the head coach.
But despite some obvious shortcomings, especially in the post where the Bobcats have been ill equipped to find a replacement for the graduated Josh Riggs who was selected to the West Michigan D League All-Conference First Team as a senior.
The Bobcats aren’t blessed with a lot of height this season and average only 6-foot-2 across the board.
It’s forced Randall, who’s in just his second season as the Bobcats’ coach, to use a faster tempo on offense to offset their lack of rebounding strength, while entirely abandoning the half-court game.
While the Bobcats have suffered two major speed bumps along the way in losses to Bear Lake and Baldwin which has left them slightly off the pace in the WMD race, Randall has been generally pleased with the team’s competitiveness.
"The guys are getting a little bit better at competing at all phases of the game," Randall said after practice Tuesday night where the Bobcats put an extra emphasis on rebounding. "I’m trying to get 32 minutes out of these guys.
"We’re talented. We’re not the tallest team and we need to be aggressive at all times. At practices, you’re starting to see it more. Hopefully we’re in full force by the end of the season, and by that I mean intensity in practice and in games."
Brethren saw a three-game winning streak snapped in a 51-43 loss to Bear Lake but the Bobcats rebounded nicely with a 58-38 conquest of Manistee Catholic Central to improve its record to 4-2 in the league for a tie with Bear Lake for second place behind first place Baldwin (5-1, 7-1 overall). The Bobcats are 6-4 overall.
Even in the big win over Manistee Catholic, the Bobcats showed some flaws.
"Instead of doing our normal offense, which is driving and kicking to an open player," Randall said. "In the second half we were more successful at it, and our guards showed they were confident doing it.
"We actually rebounded the ball very well, and that’s been an issue throughout the year. The biggest thing we got was we competed for 32 minutes. When the bench came in they were competing, too."
Gavin Asiala, Kameron Danks, Nick Kemler and Jake Riggs have been the team’s triggermen through the first 10 games, and on the boards as well as offensively. But there’s still work to be done.
Danks, for example, scored 19 points against the Chippewas on Monday night but also picked up some needless fouls because, as Randall said, he wasn’t moving his feet.
But when the Bobcats put it all together with players passing the ball, cutting through and making hard cuts, being aggressive and competitive they’re a tough out.
They’re still figuring all that stuff out.
All five starters are shooters capable of draining shots from beyond the 3-point line, and there’s two or three others who come off the bench that can light up the scoreboard as well which makes the Bobcats an explosive team offensively that can produce instant offense from any spot.
If they’re open, the Bobcats will take the shot.
Yet there’s no doubt Randall would prefer to see the Bobcats, especially the guards, drive to the basket and either take it to the hole or kick it out to the open player.
Playing the Class B Chippewas served as a good tool for Randall.
"Just playing at a more physical pace, and a more aggressive pace, is a learning experience," the coach said. "Our offense is set up for that. We’re set up for a physical game, and the aggressiveness by driving at them.
"But, at times we had lapses and became selfish where at Manistee Catholic we weren’t. Defensively, we’re getting there. At the beginning of the year we looked really lazy at anticipation. But even against Manistee we played physical defense.
"It’s just learning and understanding if I’m two passes away I need to be in help. Just keeping the fundamentals of everything, defensive stance and over emphasizing defensive stance. Defensively we will continue to get better because we do it everyday."
Randall admits he’s still learning how to manage the individual personalities of his players and to find the right combinations to put on the floor.
He’s getting better at it.
"They understand the expectations," Randall added. "We’ve have the winning mentality. We’ve got have the mentality that we can’t mess around, we’ve got to go and get it. We’re not talented enough to just go through the motions."
After winning the conference, Brethren’s other goal is to win the Class D district title. The Bobcats fell short in the district finals a year ago, and while they know reaching that goal will be difficult without Riggs they are confident of their chances if they continue to improve throughtout the season.
Brethren hosts the districts this year, which gives the Bobcats a distinct advantage. They’re on the same side of the bracket with Bear Lake and Fife Lake Forest Area, with red hot Buckley on the other side.
Randall isn’t looking that far ahead. There are 10 games left starting with tonight’s WMD matchup with Mason County Eastern and a lot can happen in that time with injuries and other potential road blocks.
As long as the Bobcats continue to grow as a team and become more proficient in all facets of the game, the rest will take care of itself.