Boys basketball program exceeds expectations, satisfies fans, coach says
The Eudora boys basketball team had its annual awards banquet March 24. The banquet was a final gathering of a group of basketball players that took Eudora to another level this past season. It was an opportunity to honor individual achievements and reflect on an encouraging and positive year.
"This was a year that a lot of people had little expectations," said head coach Scott Stein.
The team's 15-8 record easily exceeded those expectations and satisfied the confidence of the ever-faithful fan.
"We really had an outstanding year," Stein said. "The kids did a great job."
Although the Cardinals enjoyed a certain amount of success within the Frontier League, Stein saw opportunities for improvement.
"There's one aspect I was disappointed in," Stein said. "We played a lot of close games, but we did not have as good a record in the league as I would have liked."
The Cardinals' record was good enough, though, to become the second-seeded team in the sub-state tournament this year at Spring Hill. There, Eudora staged a valiant run for a state tournament berth before falling to Spring Hill -- this year's tourney host -- in the championship game 66-40.
"I think we played exciting basketball and exciting basketball games," Stein said. "This was the easiest group I've had to work with in a long, long time...they made the year really enjoyable.
Two of the most critical ingredients of this year's group were honored at the basketball banquet. Junior point guard Tyler Cleveland was presented with the leadership award, and star senior Kaleb Niedens was named the team's most valuable player.
Cleveland and Niedens were further recognized as they were both selected to the all-league team. Joining his well-decorated teammates, junior Chris Gabriel was selected all-league honorable mention.
Niedens led the team with 15.4 points per game. Gabriel claimed the rebounding title, averaging seven boards per game. And Cleveland led the team averaging 5.2 assists per game.
The loss of Niedens and Eudora's four other seniors to graduation will leave a massive void for next year's squad to fill. The senior class was responsible for 60 percent of the team's scoring and more than 50 percent of the team's rebounding. In addition to Niedens, the Cardinals lose Tyler Jackson (5.7 points per game and 2.3 rebounds per game), David Grote (4.7 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game), Andrew Bell (6.5 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game), and bench leader Curtis Hickman.
Stein, however, remains quite optimistic, choosing to focus on the weapons he will have versus those players who will have been lost.
"We return a lot of kids with a lot of experience," Stein said. "We should have as much experience on the team next year as we did this year."
Cardinals fans will be able to welcome back Cleveland (8.4 points per game and 2.8 rebounds per game and 5.2 assists per game) and Gabriel (9.8 points per game and 7 rebounds per game). Cleveland was a starter all year, and Gabriel was a spot starter. Juniors Josh Brouhard (3 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game) and Jesse Montgomery (1.4 points per game and 1.7 rebounds per game) each gained valuable experience off the bench this year and especially distinguished themselves through their defensive prowess.
In addition to returning varsity players, the Cardinals will be able to dip into the deep talent pool of their freshman and junior varsity teams -- both finished over .500 this season.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic associated with this year's team was its limiting opponent's shooting percentage to a mere 35 percent. This is a statistic that further fuels optimism. Good defense is generally credited to a defensive philosophy, and philosophies don't graduate. The defense should return next season.
With this year's success and next year's potential, Stein appears ready for another run.
"When this year was over I immediately started thinking about next year," he said. "I'm a coach, that's what coaches do."
"Next year" will begin sometime in November. Meanwhile, Stein hoped that basketball didn't fall from the routine of his returning players.
"I want them to play as much as they can, although I have no major requirements for them," he said. "I want them to do what they do, and stay active and involved."