Schwab: NI Big 12 opener a fresh start for Kaneland boys basketball
After the Kaneland boys basketball team fell to 0-3 with a loss to St. Francis on Saturday at Batavia’s Windmill City Classic, Knights coach Brian Johnson tried to sell the players on a fresh start this week leading to Kaneland’s conference opener.
The Knights weren’t ready to listen then, but a few more days to decompress should allow Kaneland’s wounded pride to heal as Friday’s Northern Illinois Big 12 East game with Morris approaches.
“We have a lot of competitors, like most teams do,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of guys who have had a lot of success in other sports, quite a bit of football players who did a really nice job the past year, so losing didn’t settle very well with them.
“We talked after the St. Francis game about staying positive and keeping focused and how we have a big game against Morris, but you could tell they didn’t really want to hear it because they were upset about losing.”
The Knights lost a heartbreaker against Batavia, 47-45, in their season opener before dropping matchups with Crystal Lake South and St. Francis to close the tournament.
Kaneland’s early struggles aren’t surprising. Although the Knights have experienced plenty of recent success – winning a conference title in 2010-11 and a 3A regional crown last season – Kaneland was hit hard by graduation and a key transfer, plus a football injury to returning starting point guard Drew David that is expected to keep him out until sometime next month.
Without a seasoned ball-handler, the Knights finished with more than 20 turnovers in two of their three losses.
“When pressure came, we wanted to make the all-star play instead of the simple play, and all we need is the simple play,” Johnson said. “It’s just really getting back to the basics of fundamentals, and that’s what we did [Monday] and what we’ll continue to do this week prior to the Morris game.”
There were individual performances to build off during the tournament, especially a 26-point outburst by senior forward Matt Limbrunner against Crystal Lake South. The 6-foot-4 Limbrunner is the Knights’ lone player taller than 6-2, and figures to emerge as Kaneland’s go-to guy.
Johnson also lauded the tournament turned in by junior John Pruett, who is doing more ball-handling with David sidelined.
“A few of the opposing coaches mentioned how well [Limbrunner] played and how tough he is to guard, so that was really encouraging, and I thought John Pruett had a really solid tournament,” Johnson said. “He played really, really well and stepped up as a junior, which is nice to see.”
Connor Fedderly, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, was selected the tournament’s most inspirational player for his effort, and “plays a lot bigger than what he is in stature,” Johnson said.
Given the Knights’ overall lack of size, that will need to apply to the entire team if Kaneland is going to bounce back from its early struggles.
The Knights hope that process begins Friday, one simple play at a time.
Ritchie on the mend: The area’s other winless team in last week’s tournament play, Burlington Central, should welcome back standout guard Ryan Ritchie from a thumb injury for Friday’s game against Rock Falls.
Ritchie did not play as Central went 0-4 at Sycamore’s tournament, losing three of the games by a combined nine points.
“I think it’s very realistic that anybody in the area, if they didn’t have their best returning player playing, they might struggle a little bit in a few areas, so not having Ryan hurt, but we still put ourselves in positions to win some basketball games,” Central coach Brett Porto said.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.