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Tri-Cities teams poised to make opponents pay from three-point line

Batavia's Micah Coffey shoots the ball during a recent practice.
Batavia's Micah Coffey shoots the ball during a recent practice.

Opponents’ scouting reports on Tri-Cities area boys basketball teams figure to have a common thread this winter: Better get out on shooters.

Way out.

This promises to be an uncommonly sizzling season when it comes to three-point marksmanship for most area squads, almost all of which return their top snipers from last year and are funneling in reinforcements.

But tempting as it can be to launch from three-point land – not to mention rewarding, when the shots are falling – coaches will have to strike a balance of capitalizing on their teams’ shooting prowess without becoming too reliant on three-pointers.

That philosophical balancing act evolves from season to season, game to game, sometimes even possession to possession.

But this winter more than most, expect area teams to come out firing.

Swishing sound

St. Charles East coach Pat Woods said senior Kendall Stephens uncorked almost 10,000 shots one week this offseason. The 6-foot-4 Stephens’ picturesque shooting stroke allowed him to command attention from college recruiters early in his prep career, eventually landing him a scholarship to Purdue.

But it was point guard Dom Adduci who was East’s most efficient three-point shooter last year. As a sophomore, Adduci clicked for about 38 percent from three-point land, and as a shifty point guard, Adduci has the opportunity to immediately pick his spots to pull up in transition whenever he sees fit.

Woods contends East has several other guys who also will have the green light from three-point land, but Stephens and Adduci form a 1-2 shooting punch few teams can match, provided Stephens overcomes a preseason shoulder injury.

There is no St. Charles monopoly on thriving from three-point land, though. St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin expects the North Stars to field their best three-point shooting team in “about three years, and maybe more than that.” Leading the way is junior Alec Goetz, who last year came off the bench and occasionally blindsided defenders with range well beyond the arc despite his slight physique.

“He has a great base,” Poulin said. “He uses his legs, and he can let it go from real deep. He continues to get better and he’s just a gym rat and loves the game, so it’s a given that he’s going to continue to improve.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Geneva sophomore Nate Navigato surprises defenses with his shooting range because he’s built like a big. The 6-foot-6, 200 pound Navigato is expected to unleash a formidable all-around game in his first year on varsity that will feature a healthy dose of three-point bombing.

“A lot of people who don’t know who I am, with my height, don’t think I can shoot from out there,” Navigato said. “Once I [start shooting], then I can pump fake and do multiple things off it. If you have a good three-point shot, the floor is open for many other things.”

Senior Mike Trimble gives the Vikings another quality zone-buster, and Navigato said several of his fellow sophomore-team cohorts from last year, including junior point guard Cam Cook, can spot up with success.

Batavia makes it 4 for 4 around the Tri-Cities when it comes to three-point promise this winter. The Bulldogs’ starting backcourt of senior point guard Mike Rueffer and junior Micah Coffey both feature the three-point shot prominently in their games, especially Coffey, whose outside flurries almost single-handedly kept the Bulldogs in several games last season.

Philosophies change year to year

The presence of Coffey and Rueffer means the pendulum likely will swing toward first-year Batavia coach Jim Nazos loosening the reins on shot selection. Certain years, the former Wheaton North coach keeps a closer watch on his squad’s volume of outside attempts.

“It totally depends on the type of team that you have,” Nazos said. “This group here, I think we do have some kids that, if they are open, I don’t mind them taking it, even early in the [possession].”

Marmion coach Ryan Paradise’s zeal for three-pointers dates to his playing days, when he shot his way to a scholarship at Northern Illinois. His Cadets teams have done their best to follow suit; former Marmion sharpshooter Eddy Grahovec canned 10 three-pointers in one game during the 2010-11 season.

“The three-point line is one of the greatest equalizers in the game of basketball,” Paradise said. “If you can shoot the three well, you can make up for a lot of shortcomings as a basketball team – lack of size, lack of speed, turnovers. You can catch up pretty quick if you’re making threes and other team is making twos. In that regard, I love it.”

Geneva coach Phil Ralston doesn’t get fooled by a feel-good shooting hot streak if, in the bigger picture, the outside attempts are hurting more than helping. But in seasons like this one, Ralston thinks the math should support plenty of launching.

“I’m very much a guy that believes in percentages,” Ralston said. “I want the best percentage shot we can possibly get. If we can have someone that can shoot threes at a 40 percent clip, I think that’s a pretty good return on your investment.”

Lacking elite three-point shooters for much of his tenure, Kaneland coach Brian Johnson instead emphasizes slashing to the rim and crashing the offensive glass. That approach should carry over this winter.

But even when teams have three-point firepower to spare, generating inside and mid-range production makes for better balance and, ultimately, frees up shooters. Woods thought the Saints settled for too many so-so three-point tries last year, and intends to ensure big men such as David Mason and Dan Wilkerson are not ignored this season.

“You’re going to see us attacking the basket a little more and getting the ball inside a little more,” Woods said. “Although we will shoot the three and we’ll play uptempo, a good team can score inside and outside, and I think we’re going to be a pretty good team this year, and I think we’re going to have that ability to shoot inside and outside.”

‘Bench will probably do most of the talking’

Aurora Christian coach Pat McNamara stopped a recent practice to grill a player about what he perceived to be an ill-advised three-point shot. If it had been one of his top shooters, such as Haydyn McNelis, attempting the shot, practice would have marched on uninterrupted, make or miss.

Conversations like that one – often one-sided ones – occur in just about every gymnasium in the state this time of year as coaches attempt to make clear exactly how much freedom each player has from the three-point arc.

For a lucky few, the light is virtually always green. Most cases are more situational, depending on if shooters have shown better results in transition, as spot-up shooters or coming off screens.

In general, coaches’ level of tolerance for players’ chucking comes down to whether a guy has earned that faith through offseason commitment and consistent shooting touch in practice.

If a shooter has proven himself, Woods affords plenty of leeway, unless the time and score dictate a more conservative approach.

“I don’t like kids to be worried, Woods said. “If they’re taking a three, I want them to be comfortable because I believe the more comfortable they are when taking a shot, the better chance it’s going to go in. I’ve played for coaches where I’d be looking over my shoulder, and obviously it’s going to affect your shot and affect your game.”

Even when his players are battling off shooting nights, Ralston won’t tell them to stop taking threes, saying he’s seen too many occasions when a previously chilly shooter rediscovers his muscle memory in crunch time.

Other coaches aren’t always as patient. Aurora Central Catholic coach Nate Drye said “most of the guys are pretty smart” about curtailing their attempts when jumpers aren’t falling.

If not?

“I’m not going to say too much to them,” Drye said. “The bench will probably do most of the talking.”

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