Boys’ basketball Run-and-gun
By BRANDON HURLEY
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One thing Greene County’s opponents know they’ll have to come to terms with this winter is the Rams will score and at a lightning quick rate.
Just where a potentially lethal offense can take the Jefferson high school is entirely up to the guard-heavy unit.
With two double-digit scorers returning from last winter’s squad, three starters as well as the addition of a point guard transfer who scored 16 points per game last winter just a few miles north, Ram fans could be in for quite the treat in head coach Chris Nelson’s second season.
Add all that onto the fact Greene County makes a move down to Class 2A for the 2017-18 season, this squad certainly has generated significant excitement as opening tip approaches.
Heck, Nelson, who guided the Rams to a 14-8 record in his first season at the helm, isn’t afraid to express his own enthusiasm for the upcoming schedule. He can sense big things bubbling toward the brim.
“I am very excited for this upcoming season. We have a good number of kids either returning or will be stepping into new roles which creates that excitement,” the coach said. “Wade (Adcock, 11 PPG), Trey (Hinote, 15 PPG), and Lance Hughes, 8 PPG) all started last year and really improved, not just in the basketball skill area, but also the mental aspect of the game, but we still have room to grow.”
Of course, any season preview would be underwhelming without mentioning the impact losing Greene County all-time leading scorer Trey Tucker has on the Rams.
Though the departed 2017 graduate holds the school record for most points (1,811) and most made three-pointers (196), he helped transition a sputtering Ram program that needed direction, pushing Greene County to 14 wins a season ago, the consolidated school’s first winning-winter in its’ five-year history, and a second-place finish in the HOIC.
“Trey did a great job for us last year. He obviously was a very good scorer but what we will miss most is his competitiveness,” Nelson said. “I thought he matured a lot and became a good leader for us. You don’t always get to coach a kid with skills like his and I was fortunate to. I think the guys that played with him and kids who watched him, realize with hard work and dedication, that type of player can be produced in our community and I think he has jump started that for some.
He along with our other six seniors (last year) really helped us set a good foundation and now it is this years team’s turn to take the next steps forward.”
Losing Tucker does not create as big a drop off one might imagine. No, quite the contrary. The record-breaker invigorated a basketball-crazed community and opened doors for the quick, sharp-shooting guards that dot the roster this winter.
A pair of prolific scorers will fill the shoes left by Tucker, as Trey Hinote, along with his school-record 68 three-pointers a year ago and P-C transfer Joe Towers combined for 31 points per game, though on different teams, last winter. Towers (16 PPG, 33 threes, 4.1 APG, 4.5 RPG) would’ve been the third leading scorer in the HOIC last winter and brings with him several years of varsity experience. He’s also played in some big time match ups (P-C upsetting Ar-We-Va two years ago ring a bell?) and should provide a solid transition into the future.
Nelson envisions the senior making a significant impact during his first, and last, season in the red and black.
“Gaining Joe Towers is big as he brings some more offense, but does it in different ways that blends well with the others,” the coach said.
With a veteran, guard heavy lineup, Hinote’s blistering three-point shooting, Adcock’s high field goal percentage (67 percent, which led the league last winter) along with a handful of players who can produce points as well, the Rams will push the tempo yet again, hoping to improve upon their 68 points per game in Nelson’s rookie season.
“Scoring should not be a problem as we have four very good options plus some others that can knock down shots when the opportunity is there,” the coach said. “We will play fast and should be better with our defensive pressure in the half court.”
Greene County’s depth, which Nelson feels his bench could go six to eight players deep if he really needed it to, provides an extra layer of ferocity in practice.
“We have 14 guys that are all competitive and athletic,” the coach said, “Which should create a more intense and competitive atmosphere where each individual will get pushed by their peers.”
Just two of the Heart of Iowa Conference’s top 10 individual scorers were upperclassmen a year ago, Tucker (24.5 PPG) and South Hamilton’s Collin Hill (21.9 PPG), which means it shouldn’t take much for South Hamilton and Greene County to battle it out once again for conference supremacy. The Hawks return the top-point guard in the league in Marco Balderas, who averaged 12.7 points per game while dishing out 5.8 assists per game in addition to 63 steals. South Hamilton captured the HOIC crown with a 14-2 record in 2017-18, using it to fuel a state-tournament run in which they nearly upset eventual 2A champion, Western Christian in the first round. Hill did lead the conference in steals (67) and blocks (44) and was second in rebounding (8.3 RPG), which will be difficult to replace.
Greene County was 13-3 in league play a season ago, earning a split with South Hamilton, each team winning on the road. Nevada will be a tough out again as they return four of five starters including Trent Stahl, who was fifth in the league in scoring at 14.1 PPG to go with 4.5 rebounds per game and 4 assists per game. The Cubs defeated Greene County 66-60 in Jefferson for one of the Rams’ three losses last season. As a team, the Rams led the HOIC in threes made (169) while shooting 50 percent as a team, aided by 131 total long balls from Tucker and Hinote, and PPG (68.3). PCM was a close second with 151 made threes and brings back Jackson Thomas, who was fourth in the HOIC in made threes with 53 while averaging 14 PPG as a junior.
Staying at the top of the league this winter will be no easy task, Nelson said.
“I think our conference will be better than last year as the majority of the teams return quite a bit of talent,” the coach said. “South Hamilton, to me, is the favorite until someone knocks them off. However, Nevada and PCM will be right there. Gilbert, Roland-Story, and North Polk can all compete and knock anyone off.”
Defense was a sore spot for the Rams a season ago, as they often failed to get back following a missed shot, allowing 59.3 points per game, including more than 80 points on three occasions.
A line up with just one player over six-feet tall could have played a role in those defensive lapses. Grabbing those key caroms will be the difference between a great season and an average one, Nelson said.
“We lack size, so rebounding will be a huge part in determining our outcome of our season,” the coach said. “We have to continue to work on defensive positioning off the ball.”
The Rams (1-0) take on Saydel, Thursday, Dec. 7. The Eagles recently snapped a 24-game losing streak, and have lost 41 of their last 44 contests, spanning two years.