While his first year as Tiger basketball coach brought big changes, that may have been just preparation for the changes this year. The coach is same, but the pieces of the puzzle are changing dramatically.
With Dante Fischer, Jaidon Sjomeling and Caleb Dockter graduating after combining to score nearly 80 percent of last year’s points for last season’s 9-13 squad, there is no follow-up senior class. The 2017-18 Tigers have six juniors, four sophomores and six freshmen on the opening roster.
“I’m excited for my second year with the group,” said coach Mike Busch. “We know each other a little better. I think they know me a little better. We had an awesome summer.”
The Tigers do return four players who had appreciable playing time last season. Braxton Albers started last year. The 6’1” junior is the leading returning scorer, having notched 97 points last year. Jalen Hitland, 6’5” junior came on late and scored 44 points in the post last year. A pair of sophomores were major contributors last year. Reece Cerney, 5’10” guard, and Caden Halsey, 6’2” guard/forward, scored 45 and 35 points, respectively, last year.
Those four, along with 6’4” junior and foreign exchange student Tom Zott will make up the starting lineup when the Tigers host Britton-Hecla in the season-opener on Saturday.
The first, but not last, players off the bench will by 6’1” junior Noah Feyereisen and 5’10” freshman Trace Cerney.
Early in the season especially, Busch said the team will need to rely on the junior leadership to grow into the team they want to become.
“We’re going to need their leadership, because, if we play team basketball, we can create the chemistry we’ll need,” said Busch. “We’re trying to find the right combos now. If nobody worries about their playing time, if they understand they need to come out and get their rest, then they’ll be back in, we’ll be all right. We need everyone to find their role and understand it.”
Adding to what could be a very deep team are juniors Noah Fried and Jayce Chasing Hawk, sophomores Kregen and Joshua Norder, and freshmen Braden and Bryston Goehring, Zane and Gavin Reinert and Cayden Eisemann.
“The best thing we have is, we have size so we can play big, and we have speed so we can go up-tempo,” said Busch. “I’ve never really played nine to 10 guys, but we’re going to have that capability.”
With as much competition as there is for roles and playing time, Busch has been stressing the need for every player to bring his A game to the gym for every practice.
“What are you bringing to practice every day?” he is asking his players.
It has brought about some fierce competition.
“Nobody’s ever given anything in life,” said Busch. “It’s good to have this kind of competition. Our practices have been competitive. We’ve had some good practices. I like that.”
Two at home
The Tigers open the season on Saturday when they host the Britton-Hecla Braves. Game time will be around 5:30 p.m., following two JV games (starting at 2 p.m.) and the Lady Tigers vs. Britton-Hecla game.
“They’re state football champs and they have really good talent,” said Busch. “They’ll come in with a lot of confidence and be a really good opponent.”
The Tigers rallied in the second half to beat the Braves 47-44 in Britton in last season’s openers, but the Braves lead the series 7-4. The teams have been playing yearly since the 2005-06 season. The only game against Britton was a 42-21 Tiger win at the state tournament in 1943. That game came in the semifinals before the Tigers beat Dell Rapids for their first state basketball championship.
On Monday, the Tigers host the Aberdeen Roncalli Cavaliers.
“They have one of the best players in the state and they have a new coach so it’s exciting for them,” said Busch. “We had better be ready.”
The Cavaliers beat the Tigers 75-57 in Aberdeen last year. In a series that began during the 1965-66 season, not many games have gone the Tigers’ way. The Cavaliers are 38-14 in the all-time series.