High school basketball: They're primed to make some headlines

The big crowds.

The bright lights.

Their names in bold on the opponent’s scouting report.

Their names pointed out among fans sitting in the bleachers.

Heading into the 2012-13 high school basketball season, each of our coverage teams has proven players who established themselves either during their sophomore or junior seasons. But with key departures on virtually every team (Rantoul Township High School’s girls basketball squad is the lone exception), returning and incoming players will have more responsibility to shoulder, more burden to bear and more expectations to meet this winter.

For the RTHS boys basketball team, the Eagles lost four starters off a 21-6 team that reached the 20-win plateau for the first time in more than two decades last winter.

Junior guard Johnny Jones is the only starter back for RTHS, and even then, the Eagles must adapt early in the season. Jones will miss the first five games for an athletic code violation.

Senior forward Greg Morrow and junior guard Talon Hardin are some of the players head coach Brett Frerichs will look to fill in and replace the likes of Travis Britt, C.J. Morris, L.C. Franklin and others off last year’s team.

The Fisher boys basketball team is in a similar situation. When the Bunnies’ surprising Class 1A postseason run ended last March on the floor of Redbird Arena in Normal, head coach Ron Ragle’s squad was losing about 90 percent of its scoring. Senior center Hans Carmien is the only starter back.

But he won’t replace Dylan Chapman, Taw Fredrickson, Parker Perrero and Boyd Estes on his own. Players like senior guard Luke Harvey, senior forward Tate Estes and others will have to go from role players off the bench last year to key contributors.

The Armstrong-Potomac boys basketball team has senior guard Wade Rogers back. Other than that, what the Trojans will look like early in the season is anyone’s guess.

First-year head coach Mike Twidwell will incorporate many players into his scheme who have never played in the fourth quarter of a varsity basketball game — like junior forward Shawn Johnson, senior guard Blake Davis and others — this year.

On the girls side, inexperience is not an issue for RTHS. Led by senior forward Hannah Wascher, head coach Jeff McKaufsky has loads of players who chipped in significantly for the Eagles last year, like senior guard Diamond Walker, senior forward Kalista Lutes and sophomore guard Jasmine Riggs.

RTHS also has players like senior forward Kimmy Schwartz who will most likely have an increased role.

For Fisher and head coach Ken Ingold, the Bunnies have to replace all five starters. They do have junior center Caitlin Cole, an imposing presence at 6 feet, 2 inches, back, and other players, like senior forward Gina Masko, will need to step into the limelight.

The A-P girls basketball squad will have to make do without one of the program’s best players, Brooke Markwalder, who is now playing at Lake Land College.

Senior center Erika Sieberns and senior guard Kirsten Newnum will handle additional responsibilities they had last year in an effort to post another winning season for the Trojans.

Many unknown variables surround high school basketball teams at this point in the season. By the time February rolls around, most of the questions and concerns coaches have about their teams will be answered. Here’s who might provide some of those answers.

‘It’s my turn’
If an RTHS boys basketball junior varsity game was close in the final minutes of the fourth quarter last year, it was pretty evident who would have the ball in his hands.

Hardin, a slippery quick guard with an array of moves and a penchant for getting to the basket, would usually take his defender one-on-one.

The same scenario could play out this season if the Eagles need a bucket late in a game. Although this time, instead of as a precursor to the varsity game, it could come for Hardin to make sure Eagle fans head home happy.

The quiet, yet confident Hardin who spent his summer honing his jump shot with the Eagles and his AAU team, the Peoria Irish, is ready to embrace that opportunity if it presents itself.

“I’m pretty excited because I’m ready to take that role on,” Hardin said. “It’s my turn, (and) that’s just my swagger.”

Hardin will most likely crack the Eagles’ starting lineup once the season starts, and instead of coming in at the end of blowout wins like he did his sophomore season, he’ll do so from the first quarter on.

“Talon can actually play all three guard positions, as can a lot of other guys,” Frerichs said. “He can definitely run the point for us. He’s going to have to get better at rebounding, but he’s going to have to be one of our main scorers. At the same time, he’s going to have to be able to set up other guys for scoring opportunities.”

The same goes for Morrow, a spot starter last year with a solid outside shot who will have to provide an inside presence for the Eagles this year.

“Greg’s going to have to be an all-conference player for us this year,” Frerichs said, not mincing any words. “Greg’s been a post player throughout his career, but he’s developed a jump shot. He’s probably our best 3-point shooter at this time. He’s going to need to be a double-double guy. That’s asking a lot out of him because he doesn’t have that experience, but we’re looking for him to score inside and outside.”

Morrow is ready, he said.

“Last year I was wanting to do that more, but didn’t get that chance,” he said. “This year I’m happy I’ll have more time and opportunity to do it.”

And if Hardin and Morrow can’t get it going, Frerichs will turn to Jones, a second-team Corn Belt all-conference player last year who averaged 12.9 points last season.

“We’re looking for him to take over games, not just with scoring,” Frerichs said. “In my opinion, he could average 20 points and eight assists, but if he can improve on his leadership, that’ll be key.”

‘He is a bruiser’
At a recent Fisher boys basketball practice, the differences in the way Carmien and Harvey played compared to last year were noticeable.

Carmien wasn’t shy about attacking his defender off the dribble while Harvey wasn’t shy about going inside and grabbing an offensive rebound or two and putting them back in.

Last year, Carmien found himself on the bench next to Ragle early in the game with two quick fouls more often than making a post move or hitting a 15-foot jump shot from the baseline.

“That was my biggest downfall last year,” Carmien said. “I would tell myself last year going in to play soft almost. I felt like I was playing soft, and I’d still get fouls.”

Avoiding those fouls will prove vital in helping out an inexperienced Bunnies’ squad. Carmien — a horse at 6-2 and built solidly at 220 pounds that helped him dish out hits as a linebacker on the football field and deliver hits as a fullback this past fall — knows that. Ragle expects Carmien to stay on the floor for extended periods of time this season. In fact, Ragle needs him to.

“If he’s not on the floor, it’s kind of tough to pick up rebounds when you’re not in there,” said Ragle, who not only mentioned he’d like Carmien to average double figures in points, but increase his rebounding production from last year. “He just has to understand a little bit more of the game and bring a little more finesse. He is a bruiser. He’s not scared of contact. He really gets after it. Sometimes, it’s just a decision on when to let something go.”

Carmien’s leadership role will have to expand. He’s comfortable with that aspect, telling his teammates to stop laughing so a team photo could be taken before a recent practice.

“Guys are probably — just because he’s the most experienced — going to be looking to him,” Ragle said. “We need him to provide that role.”

Ragle demands quite a bit from his guards, not only offensively, but especially defensively. Harvey saw action last year as a reserve.

“Luke didn’t play a lot last year,” Ragle said, “ but what he played were huge minutes. He did everything that was asked of him when he got on the floor. This year, I expect the same thing, but with just more minutes.”

The Bunnies had a solid senior tandem of guards last year in Perrero and Boyd Estes that Harvey was able to learn from.

“Basically my role is to give the ball to Hans and just distribute the ball,” Harvey said. “I feel comfortable trying to score, but I’m going to mainly be looking for other people.”

‘I’m very loud’
If he had to, Rogers would welcome the task of scoring 50 points, grabbing 20 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists every night.

He’d also gladly fill up the team’s water bottles, work the scoreboard at Robert L. Bezely Gymnasium and drive the team bus to away games if he had to.

He’s that type of kid.

Rogers is the only Trojan starter back from last year, and the senior who earned special mention Vermilion Valley all-conference accolades after he led A-P in scoring at 10.2 points, will have an even bigger role this year. Bring it on, he says.

“It’s going to be weird at first just because I was on a senior-loaded team last year, but I’m just going to try to embrace it and lead the team as best as I can,” Rogers said. “It feels good to be looked up to and be a leader. I’m excited to teach these guys what it’s like to play varsity basketball.”

Twidwell will rely on him to score off the dribble, attacking the hoop and finishing in transition.

“I’ve been doing a lot of dribbling drills and really worked on my defense,” Rogers said. “I know I’m not going to be able to just spot up and feed off other guys.”

So far, Twidwell likes what Rogers has provided to a young and inexperienced squad.

“I don’t have to stop practice and make them reset or refocus because he’s doing that,” Twidwell said. “He’s really mentoring some of the younger athletes along.”

Johnson is included in that mix. At a Trojans practice last week, he essentially became the coach on the court, directing a drill among the post players.

“I’m very loud on the court,” Johnson said. “I kind of look at myself as a floor general. I let everybody know what’s happening and what’s going on. I need to be an emotional leader.”

Despite his lack of varsity playing time, Twidwell is optimistic Johnson can produce at a consistent level.

“I think Shawn will be a surprise to a lot of people with just his sense around the basket and the things he can do,” Twidwell said. “He can go with a right or left hook shot. He’s got a nice perimeter game. I’m comfortable with him taking the three if he’s open. His game is going to be pretty open.”

‘You’ve just got to play’
Wascher has seen it all before. The double teams. The triple teams.

The constant smattering of opponents collapsing on her in the post trying to get the ball out of her hands.

That’s what happens when you’re a three-time Corn Belt all-conference player and head into your senior season with 1,156 career points.

“People probably think, ‘Man, she’s still there,’” McKaufsky said with a laugh. “When you’re a big name as a freshman, it’s going to seem that way. She knows going in that it’s going to be a double team, at least, at the beginning of the game, (but) she’s prepared for it. She doesn’t care if she has five people on her. She’s not going to back down.”

Wascher averaged a double-double last season (17.8 points and 10.4 rebounds) despite constant scrutiny from the opposition.

“You’ve just got to play,” Wascher said. “It doesn’t really bug me if people double team me because I still get rebounds and do other things than just score. It’s nothing really new because I’ve had a lot of expectations since freshman year. It’s just kind of natural.”

Wascher, at 6-0, can finish around the basket with the best in the area. Her outside shooting has improved since she entered high school, giving opponents another option they have to contend with.

“She’s always been able to finish around the rim, but now I really think she can step out and hit that high post and wing shot,” McKaufksy said. “It’s very hard to guard her one-on-one if she’s able to do that."

Schwartz showed at times last year she could knock down an open 15-foot jump shot. Schwartz, for one, is fine with the attention other teams put on Wascher.

“I think it’ll leave a lot more people open because they’re going to be focused on Hannah and trying to keep her from scoring and getting rebounds,” she said. “That’ll leave some space for the other four players.”

Schwartz averaged less than a point a game last year in varsity action, but McKaufsky knows she wants to have an increased role this season. She has shown it during the summer and in the first few weeks of practice.

“She has the desire to get out there and make a contribution to the team,” McKaufsky said. “She is able to put the ball in the hole. The thing with her is she likes to shoot. She’s an inside-outside player. I expect a lot of good things out of Kimmy this year. She has the drive.”

‘I feel like I can fly’
Different is one way to describe Masko. Out there is another.

Which, to anyone that has ever met the sarcastic and funny Fisher senior, can sum up why El Paso-Gridley is her favorite gym to play at.

“It’s just really big and open,” Masko said. “I feel like I can fly. I won’t hit the walls. I feel like in all the other gyms I feel I’ll slam myself into a wall.”

And there’s an added bonus.

“They have a water fountain in the gym,” Masko deadpanned.

While Masko won’t get to visit her favorite Heart of Illinois Conference venue (the Bunnies host the Titans on Nov. 29), you’ll most likely see Masko supplying energy and aggressiveness on the court.

She was a bit player last year for the Bunnies, but is the squad’s only senior this winter.

“Gina’s going to be Gina,” Ingold said. “That means we want her out on the court harassing the other team defensively and driving to the hoop, diving for the ball and creating some havoc out there. Gina is really good going to the basket, so we’re trying to get some things in our offense where she can make her penetration and do some scoring for us this year.”

Almost all of Fisher’s scoring graduated last year, but the Bunnies do return Cole, who gives Fisher an inside advantage against nearly every team it will see this season.

But as much as Masko is outspoken, Cole — who tied for the team lead in scoring last winter at 9.6 points — is the opposite.

“I’m just shy,” Cole said with a smile. “I have to come out of my shell and be more of a leader.”

Having played with the five senior starters Fisher had last year should benefit Cole heading into her junior season.

“I just hope to do what they did with the underclassmen,” she said. “There are some girls that I see that are kind of like me, and I just hope they’re not shy like I am.”

Ingold isn’t shy about what he anticipates Cole’s junior season to look like. Scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and an increased leadership presence.  

“Her playing in some competitive leagues besides just playing with the Fisher girls over the summer helped her some,” Ingold said. “She’s going to have to get a little more aggressive, a little meaner and a little more physical, but she’s developed some more moves in her repertoire offensively.”

‘Always underestimated’
The two seniors on the A-P girls basketball team might be considered polar opposites.

There’s Sieberns, a 6-0 post player who is shy at first, but has developed into one of the premier centers in the VVC. Then there’s Newnum, a 5-1 guard with a bold and outgoing personality who isn’t afraid to mix it up with any opposing guard.

“I love that because they don’t expect much from me because of my size,” Newnum said. “That’s always been a problem for me. I’m always underestimated because of my size, so then when I get up there and play defense, and they realize that they just can’t easily get around me, it just makes me feel good when I can see the frustration on their face.”

Newnum isn’t much of a scorer — 2.2 points a game last season — but her defensive prowess made other coaches pay attention enough to help her earn special mention Vermilion County last year.

“It’s kind of unique to have a player who wants to focus on defense and isn’t worried about scoring,” A-P head coach Nick Hipsher said. “It’s a huge help to the team because there’s not an ego on the offensive end we have to worry about. Defensively, that’s kind of where we’ve made our mark the last two years, and she’s been a huge part of that.”

Sieberns earned first-team all-conference and all-county selections last year when she averaged 7.5 points and grabbed 5.7 rebounds. It wouldn’t be a surprise if those numbers increased this year, even with teams zeroing in on her more.

“You’ve just got to get past all of that and not worry about it,” Sieberns said. “You have to keep your head in the game. Even if you get doubled, just work through it.”

Sieberns is accustomed to her teammates and coaches looking for points out of her.

“I’ve always been one of the main post players, even in grade school,” she said. “They always depended on me to score.”

The four-year varsity contributor has vastly improved since her sophomore year when Hipsher took control of the program, according to Hipsher.

“When I first got here she would score off offensive rebounds, but now she’s making post moves,” he said. “She has multiple post moves she can use. She can be a really dangerous weapon for us.”

Getting to know RTHS senior forward Greg Morrow
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
Who he’s texting the most: Krisstie Hand.
Who he needs concert tickets to: Wale.

Getting to know RTHS junior guard Talon Hardin
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
Who he’s texting the most: Megan Fox (laughs).
Who he needs concert tickets to: Jay-Z and Kanye West.

Getting to know Fisher senior forward Hans Carmien
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
St. Joseph-Ogden.
Who he’s texting the most: My girlfriend Brianna Broeker.
Who he needs concert tickets to: Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Getting to know Fisher senior guard Luke Harvey
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
Who he’s texting the most: I don’t really text many people.
Who he needs concert tickets to: Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Getting to know A-P senior guard Wade Rogers
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
St. Joseph-Ogden.
Who he’s texting the most: Meghan Vinson.
Who he needs concert tickets to: Any country concert.

Getting to know A-P junior forward Shawn Johnson
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
David Palmer Arena.
Who he’s texting the most: My brother Ernie Johnson.
Who he needs concert tickets to: Greg Bates

Getting to know RTHS senior forward Hannah Wascher
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
Who she’s texting the most: James Coleman.
Who she needs concert tickets to: Luke Bryan.

Getting to know RTHS senior forward Kimmy Schwartz
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
Who she’s texting the most: Hannah McAllan.
Who she needs concert tickets to: Jason Aldean.

Getting to know Fisher senior forward Gina Masko
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
El Paso-Gridley.
Who she’s texting the most: Ashley Piety.
Who she needs concert tickets to: Drake and The Teletubbies.

Getting to know Fisher junior center Caitlin Cole
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
Who she’s texting the most: Sami Browning, Sydney Blackwell.
Who she needs concert tickets to: Luke Bryan.

Getting to know A-P senior center Erika Sieberns
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
Who she’s texting the most: My boyfriend Dalton Esteppe.
Who she needs concert tickets to: Any country concert.

Getting to know A-P senior guard Kirsten Newnum
Favorite opposing gym to play in:
Who she’s texting the most: Kevin Dozier.
Who she needs concert tickets to: Brantley Gilbert.



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