Before the 2012-13 prep boys' basketball season tipped off, the Wethersfield Flying Geese were a team expected to do some great things.|
The Riverdale Rams, on the other hand, were a different proposition as significant losses due to graduation had them facing several questions as the season-opening Ridgewood Thanksgiving Tournament approached.
However, the two teams may have had a bit more in common than their respective situations suggested.
Before tipping off against Elmwood at their own Wally Keller Invitational in Kewanee, the Flying Geese had only had four practices as a full team under their belt. That was because of a Class 2A quarterfinal run enjoyed by the Annawan-Wethersfield football co-op, which includes several members of coach Jeff Parsons' roundball contingent.
"We practiced Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, then opened on Monday,'' said Parsons. "We played a lot of good teams this past week, but we won every game. I'd figured that if we finished 3-2, we'd be doing pretty good. But these guys are competitive, they work hard and listen, and they think they can be something special.''
The Geese certainly showed glimpses of what could be a special season. Led by junior guard and tournament MVP Trevor Lay, Wethersfield mixed close wins against Bureau Valley (60-56) and Putnam County (62-57) with double-figure victories against Elmwood, Varna Midland and Lincoln Trail Conference rival Annawan to win the Keller crown.
"We played well, but the scary part of it is, we could do better. We've got room to improve,'' said Parsons, who also had junior forward Matt Jenkins earn All-Tournament honors. "Our football guys came in shape, they didn't look tired, and they got some stuff done. These guys have had so much success in football and baseball, they'd like to get back to that level in basketball.''
Riverdale found some much-needed answers to those questions that dogged coach Jason Hendrix's club after the departure of a talented senior group led by Dispatch-Argus Area Player of the Year Wes DeClercq, a group that last winter led the Rams to their first regional title since 1993.
Riverdale came up with an impressive response by going 4-0 at Woodhull to win the Ridgewood title. Last Saturday's 55-47 victory over Three Rivers Conference rival Prophetstown capped both the week and an solid opening four-game run by senior point guard Jared Richmond, who tallied 77 points in those four games.
"Five years it took me to win one of those,'' Hendrix quipped. "The question coming into this year was how we would replace not just Wes, the guy who'd been out there for four years, but also six other guys who had significant minutes for us. We had a lot of guys who hadn't seen much varsity action, or any for that matter, so there were a lot of questions coming in.''
One asset the Rams knew they had coming in was size. Hendrix believes they used that to great advantage during last week's run at AlWood High School.
"A lot of people don't realize the size and length we can put out there, and that had an effect on the teams at AlWood,'' he said. "Jared came out and was very confidence handling the ball and shooting, averaging nearly 20 points a game and shooting close to 70 percent from the floor, and (sophomore) Cole Solomon and (senior)Drew Beale had a couple of games each with 15 and 11 rebounds, and (senior) Zack Mikles also had some big rebounding games.
"We got a lot of production from different areas, which we need to be successful. Our size also helped on the defensive end, too, giving up 38 points per game. Size covers a lot of mistakes, and we were able to do that.
"We didn't play great in the last game, which had a lot to do with Prophetstown and how it played, but yeah, this was a good shot in the arm for our guys. It's a good start, especially with the expectations outside of our own locker room.''
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