Good thing Kaneland boys basketball coach Brian Johnson isn’t the sulking type.
The Knights have had a rough shake the past two offseasons, losing a couple high-impact, potential program centerpieces to transfer.
First, it was Daniel Helm, who was already one of the top interior players in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference as a freshman before he transferred to downstate Chatham Glenwood for the 2011-12 school year.
Now it’s Thomas Williams’ departure that has left a major hole on the Knights’ roster. Williams, an athletic junior wing player, played with the Knights through their summer program before his family moved late this summer from Sugar Grove to Texas. Williams is now attending Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club, Texas, in the suburban Dallas-Fort Worth area.
At least when Helm moved last year, the Knights received a talented incoming transfer, albeit one who only had one year of eligibility left – Marcel Neil.
There’s no such fair exchange this year, but Johnson is avoiding the pity party.
“It happens, and kids weren’t leaving because they [dislike] Kaneland, just with the economy and things of that nature,” Johnson said. “Those two kids are special kids and they were part of a really nice class that’s still really nice in basketball and other sports. I’m just really proud of how the kids handled it last year after losing Daniel with winning a regional. I think the kids will handle it just fine moving forward.”
A Chronicle honorable mention all-area selection in 2011-12, Williams averaged about 12 points and 4.5 rebounds last season – nice output for a sophomore, but it was clear Williams’ best basketball is in the future. There was a rawness to his game, but Williams was difficult to keep out of the lane and capable of scoring in bunches.
With Neil having graduated, Williams would have been the Knights’ top returner and potentially one of the best players in the entire Tri-Cities area this winter.
“Thomas, first and foremost, is a great kid, and I really enjoyed having the chance to coach him. ... He’s also a special talent on the basketball court,” Johnson said. “It’s not nice losing somebody that you enjoy having around, but I know the kids are excited for the season and excited to do well. It’s not something we’re going to use as an excuse.”
Johnson said he hasn’t addressed the team about Williams’ departure, allowing them to focus on transitioning to the new school year and – for many of them – their fall sports.
The Knights still are expected to return some substantial pieces from last year’s regional champs, including Drew David, Matt Limbrunner and Dan Miller.
Johnson knows it won’t do any good to close his eyes and envision Helm and Williams suiting up alongside them.
“We’re just going to go out and be as competitive as we possibly can be and see what happens,” Johnson said.
On the Helm front, at least Johnson has an empathetic colleague in Kaneland football coach Tom Fedderly.
Helm also is a highly regarded football player, and already has a football scholarship offer from Illinois.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.