By DAVE HANNEMAN
In a vote of Three Rivers Athletic Conference basketball coaches, Findlay was given the role of preseason favorite.
Jim Rucki knows, though, that on the floor, TRAC teams won’t be giving the Trojans anything but a battle.
“I tell the guys all the time that this is varsity boys basketball, not intramurals,” Rucki said.
“We’re going against guys who have put in their time over the summer, worked on their games, played in the off-season …. And everybody has kids who have done that.
“These guys practice and prepare just like we do and they mean business.”
The return of four starters from a 15-9 team, coupled with the graduation of some outstanding talent pegged Findlay as the TRAc team to beat. Six of the eight TRAC coaches voted Findlay No. 1 in the preseason poll. The other two first-place votes went to defending league champion Toledo St. John’s.
Despite the 6-2 margin in first-place votes, Findlay’s edge over St. John’s in the overall total was just 59-55. Considering the caliber of the athletes and the quality of established, veteran coaches in the league, the race for the 2013-14 title will likely be closer than that.
TRAC coaches obviously felt the return of senior starters Michael Clark, Adam Twining, Austin Gutting and Braden Miller give Findlay the edge in experience. But 6-foot-5 senior Duke Gobrecht is the tallest player on the Trojans’ roster. Gutting is 6-3 and a rock, Twining is 6-3 and plays taller, and Clark is 6-2 and quick. Miller may be the best 5-9 rebounding guard in the region, but Findlay will looking up at most teams on the schedule.
Here’s a quick look at the TRAC in 2013-14:
ST. JOHN’S: The Titans’ biggest losses were Marc Loving, Ohio’s Mr. Basketball who is now playing for Ohio State, and Austin Gardner, a key contributer for the No. 8-ranked University of Findlay.
But the Titans will be one of the tallest TRAC teams with the return of seniors Parker Ernsthausen (6-9), Matt Sasala (6-8) and Trevor Walsh (6-4). They have an excellent floor leader in 6-1 junior Anthony Glover, and probably another D-I caliber guard in Gabe Kynard, who saw varsity time as a freshman.
Most of all, St. John’s has Ed Heintschel, a Hall of Fame coach with over 600 career wins and a knack for turning out 20-win seasons.
CENTRAL CATHOLIC: DeShone Kizer was recruited to play quarterback for Notre Dame, but the 6-5 senior guard may have a break-out season in basketball. Seniors Nate Harris (6-6), Tom Vetter (6-3) and Doug Biddle (6-7) also return for head coach Jim Welling, who guided the Irish to the state semifinals in 2011 and will have one of the deepest and most athletic teams in the league.
TOLEDO WHITMER: Whitmer finished a close second to St. John’s last year. Like St. John’s, Whitmer graduated two outstanding players in Nigel Hayes, a first-team all-Ohio pick now at Wisconsin, and Ricardo Smith, who has teamed up with Gardner at UF.
The Panthers have a new head coach in Ryan Brown and are projected to be rebuilding. But two solid veterans are back in senior guards Chris Parker and Jon Ashe, 6-3 senior Chris Boykin is a Division I caliber athlete.
LIMA SENIOR: Lima Senior was 7-16 last season, but seven lettermen, including three starters, are back for Shawn Allen in what could be a huge turn-around season for the Spartans.
All-TRAC sharpshooter Devon Allen graduated, but his younger brother Brady is an excellent outside threat and floor leader. The turn-around success of Lima Senior’s football program could be a prelude for big season on the hardcourt by 6-8 senior Justice Graham (an all-TRAC quarterback), 6-4 sophomore Ruben Flowers (all-TRAC as a receiver) and 6-5 sophomore Rico Stafford.
FREMONT ROSS: Mark Gedeon teams are always dangerous because they play tough, solid defense. This season, the 19th-year head coach has an excellent nucleus of sizable veterans — all in the 6-3 to 6-5 range — who can post inside, handle the ball, provide balanced scoring and play shut down defense.
ST. FRANCIS: The Knights were young the past two seasons and will be counting on an underclassman again in Lamar Carswell, a junior guard who was an all-league running back. Second-year coach Travis Lewis also has decent size in seniors John Fankhauser (6-5) and Evan Wheeler (6-6).
OREGON CLAY: Clay went just 1-20 a year ago, but the Eagles return one of the TRAC’s top players in Patricc Booth, a 6-1 senior who averaged over 16 points a game. Kyle Row, a gifted athlete who was an all-Ohio receiver, and 6-2 senior forward Anthony Ramirez were also starters last season.
Findlay opens TRAC play on Friday when the Trojans host Oregon Clay. Findlay beat the Eagles three times last season. And while the matchup looks like a mismatch based on preseason predictions, it’s exactly the kind of game that can test the focus and intensity of a team, especially a team with a No. 1 target on its back.
“They may have been 1-20 last year, but they played us tough all three times,” Rucki said.
“Booth is a player. He’s been all-league two years in a row and I know they’re going to come in here, be aggressive and get after us.”
It’s the kind of game Findlay faced on Tuesday against Bowling Green. The Bobcats were shorter, far less experienced and missing one of their returning starters. But BG used its quickness and the all-around play of LaMonta Stone to forge a 31-30 lead late in the first half.
Findlay finally put it all together, rattling off 28 straight points to chalk up a 64-44 victory.
“We told the guys we learned something,” Rucki said. “If we come out and play hard and play together, we’ll be in every game. But when we have breakdowns, anybody can hurt you.”
email@example.comRead More →