Every high school basketball team tries to latch onto the “next man up” theory.
Not many area teams accomplish it as well as Hononegah High School.
With only two starters returning this season in Jack Granath and Jacob Doyle, the Indians must rely on another long list of newcomers.
And that hasn’t caused them to alter one iota what they routinely list as their season goals.
“They’re the same as they always are — win 20-plus games, win conference and advance as far as we can in the postseason,” head coach Mike Miller said of his team’s yearly mission. “The sign of a very good team is to win 20 games. But the challenge for this program is to go from being good to being great. That’s the next step.”
The Indians have posted seven consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins, including last season’s 20-10. Being great would require nothing short of a trip to the state tournament.
“That’s a special team that you remember forever,” Miller said.
This season’s Indians are typical in that they aren’t blessed with an over-abundance of size, but they can shoot remarkably well and they have exceptional court savvy.
“I really have been impressed with this group,” Miller said. “They are really coachable and they are really cut-in to our system. This is the best leadership from players I’ve seen in a long time. They went out in the off-season and they made their bodies and their skills better.”
In a way, it’s like having two separate teams on his roster, Miller said, because he has three freshmen and three sophomores comprising a young unit and then a junior-senior contingent practicing alongside them.
“The young guys are learning and the older guys have really shown them how we do things,” Miller said.
The leading returnee, Granath, is also the team’s tallest player at 6-foot-5 and one of the program’s best rebounders in years. He was an All-Area Second Team selection a year ago when he averaged 8.1 points and 5.9 rebounds.
Doyle, a 6-1 senior, also returns to the starting lineup. There are only three other seniors — 6-1 Jared Knoespel, 6-2 Justin Ferro and 6-1 Tyler Martin. The juniors include 6-2 Jake Wilson, 6-3 Ryan Sughroue, 5-11 Holden Sparks and 5-10 Gary Hedrington.
“Wilson and Sughroue were on the team practicing with us as sophomores last year so it seems like they’ve been around a long time,” Miller said. “Everything is old hat to them.”
The sophomores include 6-2 Garrett Schweighauser, 6-1 Michael Scott and 6-foot Kellen McCormick while the frosh have some size with all three — Kyle Damon, Daytona Chandler and Kyle Blunt — measuring in at 6-3.
“They have a lot of potential and we’re throwing them into the fire a bit right away,” Miller said of the underclassmen, who will see more time playing on the sophomore team, but will be available for varsity duty.
What the Indians do best, other than shoot the ball, is pass it.
“We really share the ball extremely well,” Miller said. “They’re excellent passers and their good shooting is a by-product of the way they pass. They’re so unselfish that they’ll pass up a good shot to get the ball to someone with an even better shot. They’ll always make that extra pass.”
• Terrific two seasons ago when it reached the one-and-only “Super Tuesday” super-sectional Division 1 game at the Al McGuire Center, BELOIT MEMORIAL suffered a drop-off last season.
The Purple Knights slipped from 21-5 to 8-16. They were 5-13 and seventh in the Big Eight Conference
Whether it’s more of the same or a return to a deep run in the postseason like 2010-11 will depend to a great deal on the continued improvement of 6-foot-5 junior Andre Neal and some quick maturation from a mainly untested roster.
The smooth-shooting Neal earned All-Area First Team honors a year ago when he averaged 16.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He led the Knights in steals, blocked shots and was one of the Big Eight’s best scorers.
Bryant is also optimistic about the potential of 6-1 senior guard Jaylyn Edwards and 6-3 junior Denzel Barnes, two players who have improved their play over the off-season and should be double-figure scorers.
The Knights will be hindered by the early six-game absence (code violations) of 6-4 junior Deakarr Jackson and 5-9 senior guard Jalen Elliott. That has offered playing time for others, however, and in the long run may help the team’s overall depth.
• SOUTH BELOIT came into the season hoping to build on last season’s success when the SoBos won 12 of their final 16 teams to finish over .500.
The main catalyst of that surge, 5-10 senior Matt Saari returns after earning All-Area First Team honors. He averaged 16.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest.
Saari was dominant in the final month of the season, scoring 25, 30 and 31 points twice in four of the SoBos’ final five games.
An early season ankle injury proved his importance to the team.
• CLINTON is looking to contend again in the Rock Valley Conference South Division despite graduating last year’s Player of the Year, 6-foot-7 Justin Langley.
Not that Langley will be easy to replace. He averaged a team-leading 16 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season. He also hit 51 percent of his shots, including 46 percent on his 3-pointers.
The Cougars also lost another key cog from last season’s 23-2 conference and regional championship team in high-energy guard Chandler Stevenson. He was a solid all-around player, averaging nine points, 5.6 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game.
While Stevenson is playing his basketball these days at Beloit College and Langley is tossing baseballs at UW-Milwaukee, Clinton head coach Denny Morris doesn’t find the cupboard bare.
Morris, the 2011-12 All-Area Coach of the Year, has led Clinton to a 29-3 record the past two seasons. This time around he’ll rely on steady scoring from the team’s returning All-Area First Teamer, Cody Risseeuw. The 6-5 senior averaged 14 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists last season, leading the team with five offensive boards per game.