Rebuilding season starts with fundamentals and becoming stronger
For the majority of 21 years, Trojans boys basketball coach Darrel Knoll has arguably enjoyed the best of times.
During his tenure, Hillsboro transformed into a town known for basketball success.
Knoll won his first Class 3A state title in 1991 and continued his success in 1995 and 1998, while finishing runner-up in 1992, 1997, and 1999.
The Trojans also secured a trio of third-place finishes in 1996, 2003, and 2004.
Knoll’s never had a team finish below .500, amassing an impressive 387-114 mark.
However, the best of times took a turn for the worst season as everything that could have gone wrong for Knoll and the Trojans did last year.
Hillsboro got derailed early and never got on track, going a bitter 2-19 overall and 0-11 in the now-defunct MCAA conference.
But after suffering through its first losing season since Ronald Reagan was president, the only direction for the 23rd-year Knoll and the Trojans to go is up.
That’s why Knoll couldn’t be happier to put last year behind him and get back to the basics.
“Practice has had a good feel to it so far this year,” Knoll said. “The players have been competing hard and our focus has been to improve toughness and understanding in all positions.
“Several players did work hard on basketball in the offseason, so we are hoping to build on the effort. We know we have much to prove, so one of our goals is to continually improve throughout the season.”
The Trojans will be pressed for size, leaving Knoll to possibly resort to a four-guard offense. With only two starters returning, experience could be another concern.
“With only three seniors and players with limited varsity experience, we will be young, which will give us much room to grow,” Knoll said. “Our guard play should be improved this year and we are working hard to improve our overall toughness.”
The guards are led by 5-10 senior Ben Bebermeyer and 6-foot junior Jesse Allen.
Bebermeyer showed he can score in bunches as a sophomore, dropping 37 points on Haven.
Scoring wasn’t a chore for just Bebermeyer, who averaged a team-best 10.2 points per game — Hillsboro in general struggled averaging just over 40 ppg.
Allen was the lone Trojan to earn honors, averaging 8.7 points a game and team-highs three assists and four rebounds a game.
Outside of those two, the remaining three positions are up for grabs, and a key to getting the upper hand breaking into the starting rotation begins with defense.
As far as production, the backcourt may be more reliable with Bebermeyer and Allen as proven scorers.
Knoll has a number of players who notched a significant amount of minutes — seniors Jarod Hamm and Caleb Hilliard, and juniors Luke Moore and Grant Shewey played last year.
Moore is quick on defense and can drain the three. Shewey’s 6-foot-2 height makes him one of the Trojans’ tallest players.
Hilliard, too, plays tenacious defense, but he may have to play much bigger than his 5-foot-10 height in the frontcourt after averaging 3.3 ppg, and two rpg.
Hamm is just over 6 foot, but his ball handling and shooting make him an ideal fit for possibly off-guard or swing-forward, as do Shewey’s.
Hillsboro’s lack of size and a true presence inside leaves the frontcourt questionable in points inside and rebounding.
Knoll’s got the numbers, but few of those have varsity experience inside.
Sophomore Tyrell Thiessen takes up plenty of space and will be tough to push around inside, but he’s barely over 6 feet.
Brandon Rooker is another that can scrap inside, but at 6-foot-1, he’ll often be overmatched in height.
Rooker’s fellow junior Aaron Klassen could also challenge for time in the frontcourt.
Knoll’s got a promising freshman class in a team that’s loaded with potential future stars, but how well they can adjust to growing up remains to be seen.
“It is always a big jump from eighth grade to high school basketball, so the freshmen will all need to earn their spots and prove themselves,” Knoll said. “This group does have several players who have a lot of basketball and have committed to being good basketball players.
“Through my career, I have played several freshmen, so if any of them prove that they deserve to play varsity, they will play.”
Possibly at the front of the freshman class are Brett Weinbrenner and Christian Ratzlaff.
Somewhere down the road, if not this year, Weinbrenner could be a star in Hillsboro’s backcourt for many years to come.
Ratzlaff sustained an injury during the football season, which will keep him sidelined until after the Christmas break.
“I feel like we will compete to the best of our ability,” Knoll said. “One of the goals I always have is that the team will play up to its potential. “I always tell the players that that is the most important thing. I feel like most of the teams I have coached achieved that.”