JHHS boys basketball team has title aspirations in 2015-2016
For a team featuring a lot of first-year starters last season, the Jackson Heights boys basketball team sure didn’t look like an inexperienced and tentative bunch in 2014-2015.
Given that the Cobras (21-3) went on to claim a share of the Northeast Kansas League title and make it to the Class 2A state tournament, it’s safe to say that is even less so the case this winter.
“They’re not afraid of anything. They’re ready to roll,” JH coach Chris Brown said of his team. “They would have played the first game last week if it was out there. They’re ready to get going and they have that one goal in mind to make it back to the state tournament and then advance in that tournament.”
Jackson Heights will not be short on confidence or momentum this season, it seems, as the Cobras followed up that state tournament experience with an extended run in the playoffs this football season.
Brown noted he gave his players an opportunity to take some time off after that prolonged playoff run in football, but that was never really an option for this group of players as they were ready to get back to work.
With a lot of experience and leadership back this season, the Cobras are in prime position to follow through on some lofty goals. Brown noted there are still a few things to figure out despite the veteran feel of this team, but so far having so many experienced players back to contribute has been the biggest advantage for JHHS.
“It’s probably the best leadership from a group that I’ve been around. They’re going after each other. They’re competing in practice, but they’re doing it the right way,” Brown said. “Every second of practice is competitive and they’re really pushing each other to succeed.”
“Sometimes it’s like we have five or six coaches because we have my assistant coach and I and then we have three or four other guys all making sure people know what they’re doing and that they’re in the right spots, that they’re going hard enough,” Brown said. “It’s just been such a great thing so far for us that hopefully can continue once the games start and I totally anticipate that it will.”
At the forefront of that is quite the tandem, as All-League players Zane Richter and Wyatt Olberding are returning for the Cobras after averaging a combined 38 points per game last season. Richter was an All-State selection as well and the scary thing, according to Brown, is that he expects both to be even better in 2015-2016.
“It’s very likely that Zane could score less this year and have a better season because I see somebody like Wyatt potentially coming on and scoring more,” Brown said. “I’m really hoping we have a Batman and Robin there where it’s a definite two-headed monster, either one of them can give you 30 on any given night. They’ve both improved their games from last year and they both play so well together.”
Westin Jacobsen and Braden Dohl will also bring back some experience as they step into starting positions this year, but Brown noted that fifth starting spot is still up for grabs.
Players like Mason Thomas, Auston Sauvage and Brady Holliday could fill that role and may be key to helping the Cobras maintain their high level of play. What Jackson Heights does this season won’t change drastically, but Brown noted having a third player who can score in double digits could lead to more postseason success.
Those players may not average double digits on the season, but Brown said he sees the potential for all five to fill that role by committee.
Right now, those players and several more are fighting for playing time on a very competitive team, one that is set on making it back to state. Brown noted that can’t be the team’s only goal, though, and he is trying to get this group to take care of some unfinished business as well, setting their sights on winning the league outright, winning the midseason tournament and advancing at state this year.
To do all of that, it could come down to how the Cobras play on the defensive end of the floor. While the team’s defensive pressure served it well over most of last season, Brown noted Central Plains was not thrown off in a first round match-up at the 2A state tournament.
Now, with Brown in his second year at JHHS and most of the Cobras in their second year of varsity basketball, the team will try to push the envelope to intensify that pressure in its quest for more success.
“Those three seniors we lost last year (Korby Strube, Lane Slocum, Seth Holliday) were as good of defenders as you’ll see in this league. Replacing them on that end of the floor is not going to happen over night,” Brown said. “I’m anxious to see if we can just really turn the pressure up defensively and make things really hard on other people. I think we’re going to be okay scoring the basketball. We’ve got 40 points a game coming back. I’m anxious to see how we defend and if we can really make things easy on ourselves.”
Offensively, this is a team that looks to shoot the three and will continue to do so this season. With such strong guard play, Brown said he feels that should play into the Cobras’ favor this winter.
Who else factors onto this team is still in question, but the double round robin league schedule will give the Cobras a chance to work things out and get set by the midseason tournament, according to Brown.
By then, Jackson Heights could be well on its way to even more postseason success, something all preseason indicators are pointing to.
“The potential is to win it all. I think that potential is there. I couldn’t have higher expectations for them as a coach and I think they’re fairly realistic expectations,” Brown said.
Heights will start working towards that potential in the season-opener this coming Friday against Immaculata starting at 4:30 p.m.
Returning starters/letter winners:
Zane Richter, 6’ 3”, guard, sr.- 27 ppg, 8 rpg, All-League and All-State in 2014-2015
Wyatt Olberding, 6’ 2”, guard, jr.- 10. 5 ppg, All-League in 2014-2015
Westin Jacobsen, 5’ 8”, guard, sr.- 3 ppg in 2014-2015
Mason Thomas, 5’10”, guard, jr.
Auston Sauvage, 5’ 10”, guard, sr.
Braden Dohl, 6’ 2”, forward, so.
Lane Holliday, 6’, guard, sr.
Brady Holliday, 6’, guard, so.
Kaleb Keehn, 6’, forward, jr.