Last season, the Collins-Maxwell-Baxter boys basketball team began to show some signs of promise as the season went along.
Now, a year later, that promise has turned into expectation as a young Raiders squad is preparing to show exactly how far it has come from the group of talented underclassmen they showed themselves to be last season.
Returning all but one starter and two seniors overall, the Raiders likely will send plenty of youth to the floor, but that youth has generated plenty of buzz in the CMB communities.
“There’s a lot excitement with parents and people around town saying they’re excited for basketball and what a joy it was to watch last year,” Raiders coach Gary Plunkett said. “Being an assistant for three years, they knew my style, but now we’ve got the young guys comfortable in the system. We’re already ahead of the game after just three practices.”
Normally losing a player the likes of Josh Zeiser and his 12.4 points per game would be a challenge to overcome, but not with this year’s Raiders. With a strong combination of talent in the front and back court, CMB could give its opponents matchup problems all season.
The frontcourt is headlined by sophomore Bryce Kemp and junior Zach Samson. Kemp averaged 11.7 points and 6.1 points and had 30 blocks as a freshman. Coming off a first team all-district selection in football, Samson returns to the hardwood as the team’s leading rebounder from last year with seven per game.
Meanwhile, the backcourt has a similar mix of experience. Sophomore Tommy Galloway averaged 8.6 points per game as a freshman, which put him third on the team behind Zeiser and Kemp. Junior Austin Moorman was right behind him at 8.2, while senior Zach Hartgers averaged 6.2.
“We’re feeling really good and bringing back a lot of experience,” Plunkett said. “Our goal, basically, is to be an over .500 team this year.”
Through the team’s early practices, Plunkett is looking at Kemp, Samson, Galloway and Moorman as his four starters, and wants to play at least 10 players a game. That could leave space for players like sophomore Patrick Girard, who averaged 3.1 points and 2.4 boards in a bench role last season, as well as plenty of others.
Most of the Raiders’ set offense operated through Zeiser last year, and Plunkett is unsure at this point if this year will have a focal point like that. However, he does know that the points could seemingly come from anywhere on the floor.
“At this point in time we’re kind of looking at the same thing, and obviously we’ll run a lot of stuff through Kemp,” Plunkett said. “We’ve got some outside shooters as well, so we’re just looking to run and gun. We’ve got a lot of athletes on this team.”
While knowledge of the game expanded and some players were able to improve themselves physically in the past year, Plunkett believes the biggest change for the team has been between the ears. Now with a year of varsity experience and knowing the system better, the Raiders could play a smarter brand of ball than when they were picking things up last season.
“Through summer league, you could just tell everything was starting to come easier,” Plunkett said. “When you jump from eighth grade to high school, you just don’t get that natural progression for the speed of the game. But now things are coming a lot easier.”
The Raiders will open their season with Heart of Iowa Conference action at Saydel on Nov. 27.