Central boys basketball team sets focus on improving

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Members of the Central boys basketball team include (front, left to right) Isaac Wellendorf, Korey Schantz, Gabe Erickson, Caden Erickson; (back) Elliot Kelly, Tate Berns and Dan McGreal.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


Last season was a difficult one for the Central boys basketball program, as it suffered double-digit losses for the 13th time in the last 14 years, leaving fourth-year coach Brady Stramer plenty to focus on during the offseason. 


One area of immediate focus will be on limiting turnovers to 12 or less per game. Last season, the Warriors turned the ball over a conference leading 519 times, which is a little over 22 per game. Another area of emphasis will be rebounding, where the Warriors finished near the bottom of the Upper Iowa Conference.


Stramer views both elements of the game as critical to the success of the program and the season. 


“Turnovers and defensive rebounding are critical because, when we turn the ball over, that’s a shot attempt we don’t get, and when we give up offensive rebounds to our opponents, it gives them extra shot attempts,” he said. 


To achieve these goals, Stramer will lean on the team experience, which returns seven seniors, five of whom have played three seasons under the head coach. They’re well-versed in the team philosophy and on-floor expectations. 


Along with this experience, there will be a larger emphasis on fundamentals, such as jump stops and pivots, which should cut down on travels or non-passing turnovers. 


To prevent passing turnovers, the key is getting reps against a variety of defenses in practice, so the players are more aware of it when they see it during a game and can run the offense based off that knowledge. If shared among the entire starting lineup, that should make team communication easier, more efficient and more fluent, negating the potential for turnovers. 


As far as rebounding goes, this will be a team effort, according to Stramer, though tall and lengthy senior Tate Berns will be a critical component in this area as the “main paint protector on the defensive end.” 


“We will need all five guys to box out if we want to keep the opponents off of the boards,” Stramer said. 


Another area that should see improvement this season is shooting, which ranked near the bottom of the conference last year, at 35 percent. Free throw percentage was just 57. 


The reason for optimism is the return of Elliot Kelly, who Stramer said will be Central’s “Swiss army knife” and hopefully compliment last season’s leading scorer by a wide margin, Dan McGreal. Kelly was injured at the start of last season, but will bring senior leadership in a variety of positions, including rebounding, but also, and more importantly, as a ball handler and facilitator in the offense. 


During 19 games his sophomore season, Kelly only turned the ball over once per game, while coming down with 44 rebounds, which almost equaled the individual totals of the starting five, which is why his return prompts optimism. 


Additionally, the team welcomes two transfer seniors, Sam Frailey and Isaac Wellendorf, leading to some anxious expectations. Regardless of last year’s shooting issues, Stramer remains confident in this year’s squad.  


“I have confidence in a lot of our guys to make shots when their number is called…I will always have confidence in our players. If I don’t believe in them, then it will be harder for them to have belief in themselves,” he said. 


With all that said, there is a looming issue for this team: lack of depth. While there are seven seniors, the rest of the team is comprised of two juniors and one sophomore. 


Stramer looks to solve this problem by pushing the younger players to “be the best they can” in the role they are given, in hopes they will be able to help the team as quickly as possible. The lack of depth presents additional problems as the team attempts to minimize turnovers and increase shooting percentages, specifically related to game fatigue and foul trouble. It’s difficult to play high level defense if you’re exhausted from a small rotation, or if that rotation is in foul trouble early. 


To combat this, Stramer, along with emphasizing the Xs and Os, is promoting a “we before me” mindset that encourages teamwork and leading through putting in maximum effort in practice and games and during the offseason. No ship rights itself without some hard work. 


Beyond the arena, one thing has remained constant throughout the Stramer era: the relentless emphasis on maintaining a positive atmosphere, even in the midst of adversity. There is also the aspect of what Stramer stated is “empowering and uplifting” players by “putting players into positions to succeed.” 


“Our culture does not change based on results. We will continue to empower players and uplift them so they know we believe in them and that they believe in each other,” Stramer said. “Last season was last season, and we are focused on the present and future. I think this group of seniors is focused on finishing their careers on a high note, and I’m excited to see how they mature as leaders on this team.” 


It also includes teaching lessons that have nothing to do with the numbers on the scoreboard, but can be taught through basketball, such as accountability, respect, discipline and self regulation. The players are taking more from the game than statistics; they’re learning practical life skills. 


“These things are all important because they translate into the real world beyond high school. We know that most, if not all, of our players will go on to do many things other than basketball. If all I do is help them improve as basketball players, then I am not equipping them to be successful in their futures,” Stramer said.


He believes it has been successful in previous years. 


“I have kept in contact with many of my former players, and have seen the success they’ve had in their postsecondary lives, which makes me very proud,” Stramer explained. 


Central started its season Nov. 29, versus Kee.

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