Boys will rely on pressure defense
It’s been 10 years since the Northwestern boys basketball team has put together a winning season. The Tigers fell from a 10-win season two years ago to eight wins last season. To make matters worse, they lost two of last year’s top scorers to graduation.
But it’s not all doom and gloom heading into the 2017-18 season. While Trevor Cunningham and Rob Seyfried graduated, there were a number of younger players who stepped up last season and started to show strong promise.
One can roll out the clichés of this being a new season and everybody starts with a zero in the win column, but for coach Billy Hallman, he’s seeing a lot of reason for optimism.
“We had a really good offseason,” Hallman said. “This group really likes to play together and they share the ball. There are times where we have to tell them to be a little more selfish because they make one extra pass that they don’t need to make. We’ve been upbeat and haven’t had to beat up on anybody, because they’re ready to go. So it’s exciting.”
Rather than being concerned with where the offense is going to come from, Hallman is focusing on continuing to grow his team’s defensive capabilities. With some summer success behind them, the Tigers have learned that defense can win games.
“We’re going to be a pressure defensive team and we’ve been working really hard on it,” said Hallman. “This group that we have now has bought in on what we’re trying to do defensively. They realize that we’re going to go through times where we struggle to score, but as long as we play defense the entire game, we’re going to be in it.
“I think they learned that over the summer, because there were a lot of games that we played in where we struggled to score, but we kept ourselves in the game.”
Hallman is also going to use his team’s size and athleticism to itsadvantage. His players have worked out a few kinks and are playing well together in practice as the season approaches. They also have multiple players, like Devin Thomas and Luke Hallman, who can play effectively at multiple positions, giving them more flexibility.
Thomas, a 6-foot-1 junior, worked hard during the offseason and will look to combine the playing time that he got last year with the work that he put in over the summer to move into a bigger role with the team. Thomas and Luke Hallman (6-1) played out of their comfort zones last season, shifting to an outside position. The move is actually a good thing, because coach Hallman sees how it will pay dividends this season as the two young players get a chance to take advantage of their size and return to playing inside for the Tigers.
“We did that hoping to expand their game, because it’s just not a position that they had played before,” said Billy Hallman. “It’s going to make those two better because they’re a lot more comfortable when they slide to the outside now. They’re just going to be harder to guard and they’re going to play with more confidence.
Offensively, Hallman and the Tigers will rely heavily on junior point guard Sam Yadush, who averaged just under 14 points per game last season. With Hallman, Thomas and Yadush, the Tigers have three dependable players and there are younger players who appear ready for more of a challenge on the court.
“We’re going to rely heavily on Sam Yadush,” said coach Hallman. “The ball’s going to be in his hands a lot. We’re asking him to do a lot, he’s going to be our main ballhandler and he’s also going to be our main scorer. We’re also hoping that Deven Bollinger and Luke Hallman take the next step. They started every game for us last year. Deven missed one game for injury, but other than that, they got lots of playing time.”
It may take a little while for things to gel for Northwestern, but there’s a lot of reason for optimism. The season opens this weekend with the Wilson Tip-Off Tournament. Northwestern opens against the host Wilson Warriors Friday night and will play either Pleasant Valley or Kutztown on Saturday depending on the results of Friday’s games.