BELOIT—The rebuilding days at Turner are hopefully long behind Trojans coach Ken Watkins.
These days, it’s more of a reload for a program that has been strong for the past half-decade.
After losing all five starters from a historic class of 2020, the new-look Trojans will open play Friday against Edgerton in a matchup of two teams expected to compete in the upper echelon of the Rock Valley Conference.
Returning contributors David Heldt and Danny Burrows lead a talented cast, while sophomore Donovan Cain is ready to make an impact at the varsity level.
“We’ve got a lot of talent,” Watkins said. “We’ve had 23 guys practicing varsity over the last week, and all of those guys could and probably should make the roster. The kids are playing hard and it’s a very competitive environment. A lot of the guys have been in our program, but haven’t had the chance to get to play, or in some cases start, because they’ve been playing behind some really good players. This year, a lot of those guys are going to get that chance.”
Heldt came on strong off the bench late last season, playing a critical role in the Trojans’ WIAA Division 3 sectional victory against Edgerton before their season was short-circuited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“David has played a ton of basketball in the off-season,” Watkins said. “He’s really improved his shooting and his decision-making. He’s a guy that plays fast, and he’s at his best when the action is up and down the court. He’s a guy that can create a lot of havoc, and more often than not he’s going to make a play for us.”
Burrows is a long-range threat that is as much of a factor with the intangibles he brings to the table as his on-court exploits.
“Danny is our glue guy,” Watkins said. “He’s the most vocal, he knows where everyone is supposed to be, and he’s the quarterback of the team. In practice, whatever team he’s on, that’s the team that’s the most poised, and runs our stuff the best. And he’s been shooting it really well.”
Cain will be one of the area’s top newcomers, as evidenced by the many highlight reel dunks he’s posted on social media.
“Donovan is just scratching the surface of what he could be,” Watkins said. “He can shoot the heck out of the ball, and wherever he catches the ball, he’s a threat to score. We haven’t had a guy that athletic since I’ve been here.”
One area the Trojans lack: Height. Watkins said Gavin Hanson will play a key role in the team’s fortunes.
“A lot is going to fall on Gavin’s shoulders this year,” Watkins said. “We aren’t a big team, and at 6-3 or so, he’s going to be charged with guarding a lot of big people this year. But he’s a really athletic kid who has really improved his skills a ton.”
Watkins said Josiah Dillard will have a role as a shooter, while Kyle Karich, Will Lauterbach, Brent Hoppe, Aiden Diehl and Grant Revels will also play a role.
“Josiah put on a shooting display in practice that was just crazy the other day,” Watkins said. “Kyle Karich is a smart player and a good shooter. We’re going to have a hard time determining playing time. We’ve got 14 to 15 guys that are worthy of getting minutes, and with the kids playing in masks all the time, that depth is going to come in handy.”
Despite the departure of so many key players, Watkins feels as though the Trojans can compete for an RVC title.
“I like our chances,” Watkins said. “East Troy is going to be really good. I think they were rated fifth in the state in the preseason polls. Edgerton will be good, and Brodhead has a nice young team that’s going to get better.”
The new-look Trojans will have their first chance at creating their own legacy Friday night.