With last season’s squad featuring only three seniors, Roncalli boys basketball coach Joe Rux found practices to be running not as smoothly as they once had.
Now, with last year’s underclassman having a year under their belt, things seem to be back in order for the Jets as they eye returning to the top of the Olympian Conference standings like they have in previous years.
“Things are looking good so far. … We have a lot of kids that can play and a lot of kids that can shoot,” Rux said. “Clearly the benefit of having young kids play last year and being juniors this year will pay dividends.”
In addition to the team’s strength being its experience, Roncalli also will feature more depth than originally expected heading into the season.
The Jets’ top two leading scorers from last season, seniors Nate Lassila and Isaiah Bessert, are returning, and defenses are likely to key on the pair which were first team and honorable mention choices for All-OC last season, respectively.
As a result, the Jets are expanding their offense past what was learned last season in order to spread the ball around and take pressure off the pair.
“We have been able to do a lot more (in practice). We kept it extremely simple in practice last year because we were so young and we had to. This year we have been able to build on things a lot quicker and get more complex with offense and we are just more alert on the defensive end,” Rux said. “It is one thing to learn concepts and then have to go out and try and do them, but once its in your memory bank its a lot easier to just go out and play.”
Roncalli did lose some size however in the offseason. Jack Piaskowski and Mike Pozorski, each listed at 6-foot-3, were staples down low for the Jets last year, and Roncalli continues to develop ways to make up for their absense when it comes to rebounding.
“We’ll see how it goes. Overall we have just become very guard-oriented,” Rux said. “We are looking more for guys who have (played at the varsity level) to show leadership. The points will take care of themselves.”
Rux estimates that about six returning players saw considerable playing time last season and that will lend itself well to bolstering the team’s bench.
What will be especially important this season for Roncalli, Rux said, is that there won’t be much drop off between substitutions when they are made.
“The biggest positive aspect of having a veteran team is that they understand the system a little bit better, both offensively and defensively,” Rux said. “Instead of coaching a lot more of the basics, which are still important, you can actually move on to a few advanced concepts and not lose them in the process of teaching them.”
With a veteran group also comes high expectations, but aside from Friday’s season-opening game against Juneau-Morse-Marshall at the Fresh Coast Classic in Milwaukee, Rux said his squad isn’t focused on anything down the road in the season and is setting out with the goal of winning every game that it plays.
“We will take it one game at a time. … We have tough competition in our non-conference schedule and obviously lots of strong teams are in our conference each year so if we can just come out and compete every game I think we will be in pretty good shape overall,” Rux said.
“We are not focused on the playoffs, we have five months to prepare (for that). Our biggest concern will always be our upcoming game.
“We are really just pounding home the idea of getting better every single day and focusing on the next game.”