Andrew Kimball was somewhat of a misfit in St. Francis’ defensive-minded boys basketball program last season.
By his own assessment, Kimball played pedestrian defense, yet remained a valuable role player for the stingy Spartans thanks largely to his perimeter shooting prowess.
This season, Kimball is no longer an outlier.
Kimball has become a much more well-rounded player as a senior – especially on the defensive end – earning high marks from coach Bob Ward, whose Spartans are preparing to face Sycamore in an IHSA Class 3A Freeport Sectional semifinal.
“Defense was a problem for me last year,” Kimball said. “I’ve been working on foot speed and quickness and getting the defensive principles down. Last year was our first year with coach Ward and his push defensive style. This year I’ve been getting more used to the style of play and getting my defensive reps better.”
The Spartans were scheduled to face Sycamore tonight but the game was moved to Thursday since the other Freeport semifinal, Rockford Lutheran against Woodstock, was among numerous sectional games statewide postponed from Tuesday to today because of snowy weather.
For the second straight year, the Spartans have won 20 games and a regional crown. Ward, a coaching lifer, said he can’t remember many teams that have been so successful without a high-level scorer; Kimball and Jason Pisarski are averaging about 10 points a game, with several teammates hot on their heels.
But, much like last season, St. Francis (20-7) is thriving defensively. The Spartans’ victims at the Illinois Math and Science Academy Regional – Kaneland and Aurora Central Catholic – combined to average less than 38 points in losses to St. Francis last week.
Kimball, a 6-foot-1 guard, figures prominently into St. Francis’ success.
“He’s the type of kid that I think the best description of him would be he’s steady,” Ward said. “He’s a real consistent kid. I think that just because he’s such a good shooter, people may not realize that there are other parts of this game. He doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s a real, real sound defender. He’s the type of kid that not only is he sound and efficient guarding his own guy, but he’s a guy that plays really good team defense. He’s always in a position to offer help.”
Kimball is one of the few guys on a mostly new-look St. Francis squad who saw substantial minutes on last year’s team. Graduated leaders such as Ryan Coyle, Zach Roswold and Nick Donati were big influences on Kimball, who in turn has helped bring this year’s Spartans up to speed.
“I think he brought that over to us this year,” said Spartans junior forward Kilian Brown who, like Kimball, is a Geneva resident. “He helps us on defense with what he learned from them and teaches us what he learned from them on offense.”
Kimball credited Ward’s defensive teachings with helping the Spartans survive their heavy graduation losses.
The Spartans’ defensive nuts and bolts – pressuring ball-handlers all over the floor, forcing them toward the sideline, remaining vigilant on the help-line – are back in full force, even if they took Kimball a little longer to get down pat.
“He demands both sides,” Kimball said. “Our defense has been what we emphasize most. You want to be more defensive than offensive because we feel we can get farther on defense than our offensive abilities.”
If St. Francis prevails in Thursday’s all-Spartans showdown, it would face a quick turnaround to Friday’s Freeport Sectional final since weather backed up the semifinals by a day. Ward plans to trek to northwestern Illinois to scout tonight’s Rockford Lutheran-Woodstock game, making for a potentially hectic 72-hour travel schedule.
“It’s that time of year – that’s kind of what makes it unique and fun,” Ward said. “Everyone is scrambling to get tapes and everyone, in a short period of time, you’re trying to get [preparation] in.”
Teams preparing for St. Francis will need to worry about Kimball as much more than a shooter.
Just the same, Kimball hasn’t forgotten how to knock down 20-footers.
“When we need a 3, that’s the guy we go to,” Brown said. “For sure.”