There are certain aspects that generally make for a successful basketball team.
One is experience, teams with players who have through the battles before often are better equipped to handle those situations the second or third time around. Another is chemistry, the better a team gets along the better it seems to function as one unit. Along those lines is unselfishness, where there is little concern who is getting the points or making the plays as long as someone is.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, is talent. If the goals are set high, it will take talent to reach them.
As Dennis Ruedinger enters is 14th season at Lourdes Academy and watches his team go through the litany of drills on the practice schedule, he can readily see the experience, the chemistry and unselfishness among his current group of Knights. Oh, yeah, there’s definitely some talent there, too.
“We’re talented at the top (of our lineup). We have some really good players and that always helps,” said Ruedinger, who has led Lourdes to three WIAA state tournament appearances in 13 seasons. “They deserve to be good because they have played a lot and put a lot of work into it.”
The Knights return three players who earned first or second team Trailways North honors last year, led by senior Charlie Noone.
Noone averaged a team-high 13.2 points per game last year and was the only junior selected to the all-conference first team, despite missing the final four games of the regular season because of injury.
Seniors Kyle Hellmann and Sam Seibold were each second-team honorees last year, averaging 10.8 points and 8.0 points per game, respectively, although each led the team in scoring at least once last year, and are each capable of putting up big numbers if needed.
“We all played a lot last year and it’s definitely a lot easier transition when you have guys coming back,” said Noone, who scored 27 points in the Knights’ season opener last Friday. “Every day we have to come into practice and just focus on getting better. If we do that, we’ll be happy with the result at the end of the year.”
That veteran nucleus will be key factor for the Knights this season.
“There’s nothing that can replace experience,” Hellmann said. “I’m feeling good. It’s looking really promising so far.”
It’s not as if Ruedinger is out of options after those three, either.
Junior Adam Trofka and senior Gavin Galazka each saw substantial minutes last year, while senior Jake Ruhl was also a regular in the Knights rotation.
Lourdes also has two freshmen on its roster in Eddie Muench and Sam Gelhar who could contribute.
“We’ll see how deep we are as the season goes on,” Ruedinger said. “”We have a bunch of new guys and to be real honest, with some of the freshman I expect good things out of them. I think we have a lot of guys who can contribute and help us win this year.”
Noone, Seibold and Hellmann were each capable 3-point shooters and often scored a lot of their points on big nights from behind the arc.
This year, they hope to be known as more than just a crew of jump shooters.
“Our strength is going to be whatever is open on a given night,” Noone said. “If they want to take away shooting we have guys that can drive and guys who will D-up and play good defense and be good role players for us. We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things.”
Ready to share
It’s one thing to have the talent-rich roster, however, if the players are unable to work together on the court, it doesn’t do very much good.
That’s not the case with the Knights.
“We’ve had more good passing in the first week (of practice) than we have had in a long time because they just understand how to play the game,” Ruedinger said. “They share the basketball and basketball can be fun to watch when that happens.”
An unselfish team also causes problems for opponents as they try to focus in on the best player to try and stop. Teams may try to take one or two of the Knights best players away on a given night.
But when that happens, don’t look for a Lourdes player to of hoist up ill-advised shots or dominate the ball to get an open look. They are confident in their teammates to get the job done.
“I think it’s very hard to prepare for. If a team takes its best defender and puts him on one of us, then someone else steps up,” Hellmann said. “Anybody on the team can be our leading scorer and top whatever every night. We’re looking forward to that.”
Ruedinger knows his top scorers are going to draw the attention of opposing defenses, but he is confident when that happens, his guys will know how to handle it.
“It’s not going to be a secret of who you are going to try to stop when you play us,” Ruedinger said. “But regardless of what happens or how good you are, it will always be a team game.
“Our guys understand that they are doing a good job of trying to get everyone involved.”
As talented as this group is on the offensive end, the key for the Knights this season may be on the other side of the floor, when they are on defense.
Lourdes allowed an average of more than 50 points per game a year ago and would like to see that number come down some.
“(Defense is) extremely important,” Seibold said. “That’s what sets the tone for the entire game.”
The Knights graduated their top defensive player from last year in Josh Kalmus and Ruedinger is looking for someone to step into that role.
“Every good team I’ve had has had a defensive stopper,” Ruedinger said. “Who that will be? We’ll see. That’s something we’re auditioning for right now but that’s a very important part to any quality team.
“If you can’t defend you can’t win. It’s that simple. Our guys know if they want to win, they have to defend.”
The way most successful defensive positions are finished off is with the rebound of an errant shot and that is an area of concern for Ruedinger.
Hellman is the tallest player on the Knights roster at 6-feet, 4 inches, while Seibold and junior Carson Schulz are listed at 6-3. Yet, Ruedinger believes that it takes more than height to be a good rebounding team.
“Rebounding in my opinion is a numbers game. You have to have more going after the ball than the other team ,” Ruedinger said. “If you can get five guys to try to get the basketball and have that type of mentality, it doesn’t usually matter if you have a lot of height.”
Lourdes Academy had one of its most successful seasons in football this past fall, in fact there as not a break in between the fall and winter seasons.
A number of the Lourdes basketball players were on that football team and they are hoping the success the team had on the gridiron, carries over to the basketball court.
“Having that success and tasting that in football makes you want it that much more in basketball. We’re definitely motivated to be better,” Noone said. “You’re in that groove of doing something every day after school and being active but it feels good to get up and down the floor in again.”
Ruedinger couldn’t hold his smile back — or at least he didn’t bother trying — when asked about the long-term potential this season.
The Knights last made it to the WIAA State Tournament in 2012 and are looking to get back to the Kohl Center at the end of the season.
“I certainly think so. We have the talent to do it,” Ruedinger said. “Like anything, you need luck, you need the right bounces. Every time we’ve gone, we’ve been fortunate. You just play as hard as you can and see what happens.”