Ramblers seek new identity

GENEVA – Fresh off last season's IHSA Class 1A state championship season, the Mooseheart boys basketball team is moving on without several of the standouts that lifted the Ramblers to unprecedented heights.

In the pregame huddle Wednesday at the Geneva Summer League, Ramblers assistant coach Pete Daneels gave three instructions: “Hustle, give 100 percent, and rebound.”

It's back to the basics for the Ramblers, who are without South Sudanese standouts Akim Nyang (7-foot-1), Makur Puou (6-10) and Mangisto Deng (6-7), who were senior starters on the state championship team.

The team responded Wednesday, beating West Chicago, 45-43, despite having no substitutes the entire game, due to several players, including returning standout Hameed Odunewu, participating in “home association trips” according to Daneels, who served as head coach Wednesday as varsity coach Ron Ahrens was on vacation.

Communication issues and fundamentals are still a work in progress, but the Ramblers view the summer as a good opportunity to gain chemistry.

“Our offense will be rusty … I think by the end of this summer league, hopefully we'll understand each other's tendencies on offense,” Daneels said.

While the team is only beginning its summer, having just completed school earlier in the week, it is already forging a new identity after its state championship season.

“I think our [team] identity is always going to be the same no matter who we have," Daneels said. "We're always going to pride ourselves on playing hard … we have a lot of new players, and we pride ourselves on defense."

With standouts Puou and Deng moving on to junior college basketball at Vincennes (Ind.), Mooseheart is hoping young players can emerge as the Ramblers acclimate to a more conventional roster.

“I don't think you can replace them … it needs to be a total team effort," Daneels said.

Mooseheart is looking to depend on upcoming players like varsity hopeful Nate Brown, a guard, to contribute. 

“I want to get better and work as hard as I can. I want to push myself,” Brown said. 

Odunewu will be expected to again be the Ramblers' defensive catalyst and improve on offense come the start of the season. 

“He needs to be the guy we count on offensively,” Daneels said.