Boys’ squad facing rebuilding campaign
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
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.