ARMA — Last year, the Northeast boys' basketball team had a solid 18-4 record but fell in sub-state to Wellsville, falling just shy of reaching their goal of qualifying to the state tournament.
That team was led by a group of seniors that is going to be hard to replace this year, and head coach Russ Cramer is fully aware of that fact.
“This year, with us graduating seven seniors and losing everybody that played varsity for us, I don’t even think we know what our expectations are right now, trying to replace so many guys,” Cramer said. “We are in here working hard and playing together as a team and, hopefully, this year, we can finish toward the top of our league.”
Even with four seniors on this year’s team, the Vikings will be relatively inexperienced, as essentially the entire varsity team from last year is gone, but Cramer still expects his seniors to lead and play well.
“I think our seniors will do a good job for us,” Cramer said. “We are going to be relatively young in experience, even though we will have seniors on the floor for us. But our guys have done a great job of buying in to what we are trying to do and executing the game plans offensively and defensively and playing together as a team. That is going to be important for us this year.”
Because of the youth and inexperience, the style of basketball naturally has to change from years past. This 2016-17 version of Northeast basketball will be more methodical.
“Our style is going to change in a big way from past years,” Cramer said. “In the past, we have been up-and-down and been able to score a lot of points and turn people over. This year, we will be a lot more patient with the basketball and look to move the basketball a lot more before we put up shots. We have to be a little more selective in the shots we do take. So, the style is going to be a little slower and a little more toward the execution side and a little less ‘let them play’. It has been fun challenge.”
Leading will be two seniors — Zack Adkins, who has some varsity experience from last year, and Jake McDowell, who had to sit out last year due to an ACL injury suffered in football. Adkins will be relied upon by his coach to lead because of his familiarity with the system, and McDowell will add inside toughness to this year’s team.
Running the show will be Tejay Cleland. Only a sophomore, Cleland understands the game well and will have to get his team in the right spots on the floor for them to be successful. He will have to lead as a point guard, his coach said.
While the offense will be more methodical this year, Cramer still plans to attack defensively, a hallmark of his past teams.
“We are still going to get out and try to trap and pressure people; I think we have to get buckets through our defense this year," he said. "We are not going to score the ball as well as we have in the past, so if we can turn people over and generate some offense through our defense, then that will be big for us.”
Northeast begins their season this Friday at Bronaugh in a 5 p.m. matchup.