Boys' Basketball: Rockets take aim at upper-echelon with veteran squad
By BRANDON HURLEY
A strong finish is extremely necessary as the Paton-Churdan boys’ basketball team embarks on their latest venture.
The Rockets opened a grinding slate a year ago with wins in three of their first five games before skidding into a downward spiral.
The Rolling Valley Conference squad lost their final six games and 15 of their final 17 games, eliminating a promising season before it really had a chance to grow.
In addition to trying to shake free of their late season skid, Paton-Churdan must replace two of its three leading scorers this winter.
The Rockets do have a decent amount of talent returning, as Connor Brus (11.2ppg) - the Rolling Valley Conference’s second-most lethal three-point shooter (45 3PM and 2.3 three-pointers made per game) - and Bradyn Smith (6.9 ppg, 6.3ppg) anchor a program starving for success.
P-C last mustered a winning season during the 2015-2016 campaign when they won 17 games. Since then, the Rockets have secured double digit victories just once, including nine wins combined over the last two years.
There’s certainly a sizable amount of talent on the current P-C roster. Junior Joe Carey could provide a solid boost, having averaged 7.1 points per game last winter in 17 games of action. Both Brus and Smith scored more than 20 points at least once last season which bodes well for the program as well, highlighted by Brus’ 22 points, six three-pointers (6-11) and nine rebounds in a 14-point win over Collins-Maxwell. Smith’s season-high of 21 points came on nine-of-10 shooting in a 31-point blowout of West Central Valley, also hauling in five rebounds and three steals. Carey is the only other returning Rocket to have scored in double digits at least once last winter, chipping in a career-high 13 points, three steals and two assists in an 11-point loss against Woodbine.
As a team, Paton-Churdan witnessed an uptick in three-pointing shooting during their five-win campaign, drilling 121 long balls at a rate of 31.8 percent, led by Brus’ team-best 32.8 percent mark from beyond the three-point arc.
P-C’s shift from a defense first, grind-it-out squad paid dividends early in the schedule last December, but faded down the stretch. The Rockets still drilled 30 more three-pointers than the year prior, and almost twice as many makes than two years ago, when P-C made just 72 three-pointers at a rate of 28.7 percent. Interestingly enough, P-C scored 56.2 points per game during the 2017-18 campaign and took a dip the following year down to 42.6 points per game before rocketing up a small bit to 46.4 points per game. When taken at face value, though P-C made more three-pointers last year than they had in any of the three seasons prior, the overall scoring didn’t exactly reflect that notion. Some things must obviously change.
In the meantime, Smith possessed the best overall shooting percentage among any Rockets, drilling nearly 46 percent of his shot attempts (45.8 percent) in addition to swiping 1.9 steals per game, the seventh-best mark in the Rolling Valley Conference. Finding a replacement for the production of graduated seniors Kaleb Fisher (12.1 ppg) and Jesse Knowles (8.1 ppg) will be difficult, as the pair combined for 171 rebounds, 59 steals and 32 blocks, 31 of which came from Knowles. The duo also combined for 54 made three-pointers, spearheaded by Fisher’s 44 long balls.
The Rolling Valley Conference as a whole could be a relatively tight race. Three of the league’s top five leading-scorers were sophomores a year ago while five of the top 10 were underclassmen. The RVC’s top three-point shooter, Gavin Reineke is back for one final year after drilling 49 threes. As a matter of fact, the league’s top three long range bombers are back as are six of the top 10. Three of the conference’s top five rebounders return as well, highlighted by Ar-We-Va’s Cooper Kock who hauled in 10 rebounds per game, just a hair behind the league’s top board man, Creighton Nelson (10.2 rpg), who graduated in the spring.
Boyer Valley ran away with the RVC crown last winter thanks to a 15-1 record, though the Bulldogs should face strong challenges from a number of feisty programs. Nearly all of the league’s schools return a significant portion of veteran players, which likely means a hotly-contested season is in store.
Paton-Churdan opened the 2020-21 season Tuesday night on the road against Ar-We-Va. The Rockets will host their home-opener Friday against Glidden-Ralston before hitting the road again Dec. 8 to take on Exira-EHK.