Boys’ squad fac­ing re­build­ing cam­paign

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - SPORTS - BY DAVE SEAMON SPORTS ED­I­TOR

For some high school coaches, re­build­ing oc­curs only af­ter nat­u­ral dis­as­ters or war.

Their team might have a boat load of grad­u­a­tion losses, but th­ese coaches — for what­ever rea­son— cringe upon hear­ing the word “re­build­ing.’’ “We might have lost a ton of tal­ent. ... We’ll just reload like we do ev­ery year,’’ their think­ing goes.

Small pub­lic school bas­ket­ball coaches, like Shenan­doah Val­ley’s boys’ boss Rob­bie Miller aren’t as for­tu­nate. Not af­ter his Blue Devils lost 12 se­niors from their sec­ond of backto-back District 11 fi­nal and PIAA qual­i­fy­ing teams, many the heart and soul of the pro­gram for the past three years.

“I’m more than likely go­ing to be start­ing four ju­niors and one se­nior who have very, very min­i­mal var­sity ex­pe­ri­ence — if any,’’ Miller said Wed­nes­day. “Some of them will be play­ing their first var­sity min­utes ever. If there’s any such thing as a re­build, this is it.’’ Gone are back­court stand­outs Joel San­tana and

Jer­maine McNeil, who com­bined for more than 34 points per game and 113 three-point­ers last sea­son. Re­li­able role play­ers Isa­iah Al­varez, Noah Rais­ner, Austin Uho­lik, Rob­bie Micha­lik, Matt Creasy and Sy­diq Shenos­ter also used up their high school el­i­gi­bil­ity.

In their place will be the many of the same guys they played against in prac­tice ev­ery day last sea­son. Most toiled in rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity on the scout team as ju­nior var­sity play­ers, sim­ply wait­ing for their chance to play var­sity.

“See­ing those older guys win made th­ese guys hung ry,’’ Miller said. “They’re work­ing their hard­est to get to that spot. They’ re not there right now, but hope­fully as the sea­son goes along, they keep work­ing to­ward that kind of (suc­cess).’’

A key in­gre­di­ent for the new-look Blue Devils is 6- foot -6 ju­nior Mar­cel­lus Ratcl if fe, a po­ten­tial team an­chor, es­pe­cially on the de­fen­sive end as a re­bounder and shot blocker.

“He was a big-time project when he first walked into the gym a year or two ago,’’ Miller said. “He didn’t take bas­ket­ball very se­ri­ously, but now he sees the op­por­tu­nity here. When you’re the only 6-6 guy on the team, there’s a good chance you’re go­ing to play if you work hard ... and he’s bought in. ... He’s get­ting bet­ter ev­ery day.’’

The Devils also have “three or four guys’’ that Miller said he “trusts han­dling the bas­ket­ball.’’

Among those are ju­nior Evan Kosar, who will as­sume the point guard du­ties most of the time. Tyler McCole, whose brother Ian was a team stal­wart a few years back, can help with ball­han­dling and also can shoot the three.

Guards Johnny Chin­chay and Isiah McNeil, who “bring a lot of en­ergy to prac­tice ev­ery­day’’ ac­cord­ing to Miller, would round out the start­ing lineup if the sea­son started to­day.

“We don’t have a go-to guy, which I think is a good thing,’’ Miller said. “We’ ll need to have a dif­fer­ent lead­ing scorer ev­ery night if we’re go­ing to be suc­cess­ful.’’

Ju­nior for­ward An­gel Al­monte and se­nior swing man Alvin Or­tiz will pro­vide help off the bench. Both are ver­sa­tile play­ers.

“We need to ma­ture and

g ain ex­pe­ri­ence quickly,’’ Miller said. “Zero re­turn­ing starters means a sharp learn­ing curve.’’

Par­tic­u­larly now, be­fore the sea­son gets un­der way against Shamokin on Dec. 8. That ex­plains why Miller was miffed about his team’s de­fense in a re­cent scrim­mage against North Schuylkill and Palmer­ton.

“I don’t care how un­sea­soned we are,’’ he said. “We shouldn’t be giv­ing up as many points as we did with a run­ning clock. That def­i­nitely needs to be fixed.’’

The three-way scrim­mage was part of Miller’s plan to face op­po­nents with big­ger en­roll­ments, which started with get­ting his young team in a sum­mer adult league in Pottsville.

“We wanted to find out where we stand and keep a chip on our shoul­ders to see how much work we need to

put in,’’ Miller said.

Next up is a chal­leng­ing non-league sched­ule, in­clud­ing a few op­po­nents a clas­si­fi­ca­tion or two above Shenan­doah Val­ley’s Class AA sta­tus.

“I didn’t ad­just our sched­ule,’’ Miller said. “I had the op­por­tu­nity to take some of the big­ger schools off (it) ... but I fig­ured if th­ese kids are go­ing to get thrown into the wringer, we may as well keep the sched­ule as hard as we pos­si­bly can to force ma­tu­rity on them.’’

Should that hap­pen sooner rather than later, the Devils just might be back in the mix with Mar­ian, Ma­hanoy Area, Na­tiv­ity, Pan­ther Val­ley and Weatherly for the Schuylkill League Di­vi­sion III ti­tle.

“No mat­ter what hap­pens in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber, we’ve got to keep fight­ing to make Jan­uary hap­pen for us,’’ Miller said. “This is the same thing that the se­niors who just grad­u­ated went through as sopho­mores three years ago. ... We started 0-8, but then we got a win at Weatherly and the next thing you know we were 11-11 and made the District 11 play­offs, where we al­most beat Notre Dame-Green Pond.

“It’s never about who’s the best team in Novem­ber or De­cem­ber,’’ he con­tin­ued. “It’s about the team that’s play­ing the best bas­ket­ball in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary. That’s our goal.’’

ROB­BIE MILLER Devils’ boys’ coach

ANDY MATSKO / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

The Shenan­doah Val­ley boys’ bas­ket­ball team runs on to the floor be­fore their home game against Mar­ian last sea­son. With no re­turn­ing let­ter­win­ners, the Blue Devils will have a whole new look when they open the 2017-18 cam­paign against Shamokin on Dec. 8.

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