By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
Coming off a 21-win season, the Quincy High School boys basketball team carries high expectations into this season despite returning only two starters and sliding a pair of sophomores into the starting lineup. The mix of youth and veteran leadership could produce a dynamic team capable of winning a Western Big Six Conference championship and some postseason hardware.
Here is a look at five things that could make or break the Blue Devils’ season:
1. Find additional scorers
Parker Bland is a known commodity. The 6-foot-4 senior forward scored more than 400 points the last two seasons combined and is entering his fourth season on the varsity. He’s extended his game to the 3-point stripe and continues to improve his footwork around the basket. He is arguably the best forward in the Western Big Six Conference, but he is Quincy’s only proven scorer. Senior forward Garrett Gadeke is a nice complement in the frontcourt and his numbers should improve in his second season as a starter, but the backcourt lacks anyone who has consistently scored at the varsity level.
Junior guard Aaron Shoot will fill one of the scoring roles. He was spectacular at times last season coming off the bench, but he was never asked to score on a nightly basis. Now, the Blue Devils are expecting double digits out of him every night. Sophomore guard Jirehl Brock is another scoring threat. More of a slasher and a creator off the dribble than a spot up shooter — if you watch him practice, though, his 3-point shot has a beautiful arc — Brock gives the Blue Devils an athletic dimension that should lead to more baskets in transition.
Beyond the starting five — sophomore Jaeden Smith will start at point guard — the Blue Devils will be looking for someone to help carry the load.
2. Learn as you go
In Andy Douglas’ first two seasons as head coach at QHS, he was blessed to have a senior at point guard as Lincoln Elbe and Mike Dade assumed leadership positions. That’s not the case this season. Smith, who has played two varsity seasons on the QHS boys soccer team, is being given the reins to the offense without having spent a full season behind one of those veteran guards.
His challenge will be to stay headstrong when mistakes happen and provide leadership despite his age. Smith will have the advantage of playing alongside Shoot, who learned from Dade’s tutelage last season much the same way Dade learned from Elbe the year before. Although Shoot wasn’t a starter last season, he was an intricate part of the Blue Devils’ attack and understands what it means to be a sophomore in that position.
The same goes for Brock, who will benefit from the upperclassmen around him.
“I’ve told them to lean on the seniors, lean on the veteran guys who have been there and been in the trenches,” Douglas said. “If you don’t know what’s going on or you feel like you’re questioning yourself, those are guys who can help get people ready to play because the people ahead of them got them ready to play.”
3. Got to be physical
The frontcourt is Quincy’s undeniable strength, but the Blue Devils don’t have anyone taller than 6-4 in the lineup. That could cause some problems against bigger teams if it weren’t for the fact the Blue Devils might be the most physical group around.
Bland is a shot-blocker who is capable of averaging double digits in rebounds this season. The 6-3 Gadeke is a workhorse who will outhustle and outmuscle foes for a rebound, a loose ball or simply position on the floor. Zack Aschemann, a 6-4 forward, is back playing basketball after giving it up for a year to concentrate on weight lifting and conditioning for football. An all-conference defensive end, Aschemann can be a bruiser at both ends of the floor for the basketball team. And 6-1 Deven Smith, an all-state fullback and linebacker, was one of the first options off the bench last year in the frontcourt and will be again this season. Few play any sport more physical than him.
None of the four are scared to throw their bodies into the mix to get a rebound.
“With the defense we run, we know if we get beat, we’ve got Parker Bland and Garrett Gadeke back there,” Shoot said. “Those are two guys are not fun to try to put shots up against. It definitely takes some pressure off the guards.”
Unless the guards are fighting for a rebound with one of the big men.
“I can’t tell you how many bruises I’ve had from Parker,” Shoot said.
4. Keep the energy high
After two weeks of practice in which the Blue Devils were short-handed because of injuries, they are back to full strength. Shoot’s broken thumb has healed. Brock’s ankle is healthy. And everyone is ready to showcase how this team is going to perform. The energy such anticipation has created isn’t going to wane once the first game is over. The Blue Devils believe they can maintain the enthusiasm.
“Every person who is on the court, you can tell they want to be on the court at all times,” Shoot said. “The energy is almost always there in practice. That’s one of the things that is going to separate us.”
The high energy is born from desire.
“We’re active,” Bland said. “And we have a high motivation just to get better overall.”
If they maintain that, the Blue Devils could be staring at another 20-win season.
5. One step at a time
The Blue Devils are clear there is some unfinished business they want to take care of after letting a fourth-quarter lead in the regional championship slip away. They also would like to repeat as Western Big Six Conference champions. But they have to take matters slow and not make those two objectives do-or-die situations. There are going to be some growing pains with a young lineup, but Douglas is convinced this group has the right mindset to be a champion.
It starts by understanding the game.
“We don’t have to spend a lot of time on Xs and Os because they pick it up quick,” Douglas said.
That’s allowed the coaching staff to spend more time pushing the Blue Devils to be tougher mentally. That will pay off when games get tight and the Blue Devils understand how to handle the pressure.
“That’s where our experience counts,” Bland said.