The Newton basketball team fell just a few games shy of completing a number of its goals from the 2011-12 season under first-year coach Nick Wilkins.
Although three of the key players from that team have since moved on, Wilkins and this year’s players aren’t at all willing to let that get in the way of their goals for the new season.
“Pretty similar to last year, we just want to come out and compete every night,” Newton coach Nick Wilkins said. “We know, and everyone in he conference, know we lost the bulk of our scoring, but we have kids with varsity experience and younger kids stepping up, so I don’t anticipate us dropping off at all.”
The two returning starters from last year’s team — seniors Collin Reynolds and Andrew Clements — have emerged as the leaders on this year’s team. Not only are they representing themselves as seniors, but also as players who took the floor with some uncertainty last year before coming into their own before the end of the season.
“They saw Brian Rose and Scott Nilles were great leaders for us last year, so now they’re stepping up and leading that way for us,” Wilkins said. “There’s more confidence out of them this year considering last year was the first real varsity minutes either of them got.”
“I think a lot of that just kind of transitioned from football,” Reynolds added. “We’re comfortable now if we need to kind of run the show.”
Reynolds and Clements are joined by fellow seniors Jesse Bates, Michael Miller, Jacob Hill and Austin Hopwood, although Bates and Miller are the only ones of that group that saw significant court time last season. The remainder of the roster is generally inexperienced, but will see plenty of playing time.
Sophomore Tyler Wood will likely step into a starting role at a guard position thanks to four points per game off the bench last year. Junior Ryan Thompson didn’t see the floor last season, but will have his 6-foot-5 frame utilized this year. Besides those two, it seems to be an open competition between the likes of juniors Chandler Sturtz and Nick Glotfelty and sophomores Nick Easley and Devin Shores.
“Pretty much all the juniors are going to get some playing time this year and the sophomores will push them,” Wilkins said. “We’ve had some good practices with that so far, so we’ll just have to see where the chips fall.”
Wilkins expects Pella Christian to be the team to beat in the Little Hawkeye Conference, with the Cards closely mirroring Oskaloosa in terms of what each team lost and what they’re bringing back. Elsewhere in the conference, Grinnell returns junior Eli Dunne, who was widely considered the best post player in the conference, and Norwalk returns a solid cast that features the 6-foot-8 Carson Miller.
“Every game is going to be a challenge, but there isn’t a game that we can’t win,” Clements said. “There’s no reason we can’t compete if we keep working hard and doing our jobs.”
Newton also is challenging itself with a more difficult non-conference schedule this year with schools like Marshalltown, Adel-DeSoto-Minburn and Ballard of Huxley. Those games are spaced out throughout the season to help the Cards find some balance leading up to the postseason.
“ADM and Ballard are fighting for a state tournament spot every year, so we’ve added some teams that could potentially push us more than the teams we’ve played the last few years,” Wilkins said. “I think it’s good to have that competition. It doesn’t do you much good to play teams just to get wins.”
Perhaps the biggest boon to the Cards this year will be the experience of having one year in Wilkins’ system. After coming short of their goal of a .500 season last year, that goal is alive and well once again within this year’s team.
“Coach Wilkins is a great coach and we’re just really comfortable with the system,” Reynolds said.
“He coaches to the abilities of the team and he knows what our abilities are,” Clements added. “It might take the younger guys a little bit longer to catch on, but they’ll get it down.”
Newton will begin its season by hosting Boone on Nov. 27. The Cards opened last year with a win over the Toreadors in Boone.