Boys' Basketball: Height, shooting, experience propel the Raiders
This winter's Hastings Raiders boys' basketball team will be awfully similar to last season's, but head coach Chad Feikema said he hopes there are significant differences as well.
"We've got a lot of guys back from last year, we've got more experience back this year than we had going into last year's team," he said. "This year we've got more guys who have some on-court experience, so my guess is, No. 1, it's going to be a team that makes fewer mistakes and for three years we were really good in close games. Last year we took a step back in that area. I expect this year's team to be better in close games again due to that experience."
Like last season, look for this year's team to shoot the 3-pointer well and to have some very good size, perhaps even more as players have continued to grow.
"We were a really good shooting team from the perimeter last year and I expect that will be the case again, some of our best shooters return," Feikema said. "We've got good size again this year, I'd say we're taller this year than we were a year ago. Matt Schlottman has grown to 6 feet 9 inches, so he's probably two inches taller than he was last year. Isaac (Rabaey) is 6-foot-6, Brian Nielsen will be part of the rotation we anticipate as a senior and he's 6-feet-7, and we've got a couple of other guys in the 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-4 range so we're a little longer than we've been."
Schlottman and Dylan Wagner were Hastings two best shooters last season and Feikema said that 3-point shooting will continue to be a strength for the Raiders, as well as transition-play.
With Grant Hollar and Sawyer Levos having graduated, Hastings does have holes at point guard and the wing position. Devon Haraldson showed the ability to hand the point as well as score last year but will miss the first few games while coming back from an ACL injury he suffered during the 2017-18 season. Feikema said that it will be up to others to step in and fill those roles.
"Sully Levos has a really good shot as well and has kind of taken the reins at the point guard spot (right now)," he said. "So I think there are a couple of possibilities at that position. I have a lot of confidence right now in Sully, obviously Devon can do it as well. I can foresee situations where they are playing together quite a bit."
Two areas that Feikema hopes to see improvement on offense is in the post and general playmaking from his players when the offense breaks down.
"I do hope that we'll be more consistent in terms of being able to score in the post," he said. "We would have games where we got great production from the post and we had games where we kind of disappeared, so I think we'll be more consistent in that area this year."
"Hopefully another area of improvement, hopefully we'll be a little bit better at just making plays," Feikema said. "We've typically been a really good execution team in terms of running half-court stuff. We run 30-40 different half-court sets and we execute really well, but we haven't been able to, especially in the half-court type of situation, have guys who can create plays and just make things happen. Which you kind of need for your team to take it to that next level."
Switching to defense, Feikema said that last year was a mixed bag for Hastings and is perhaps the area they need to improve in the most.
"To talk defense a little bit, I think that's an area where we really need to see some improvements," he said. "Our defensive 3-point percentage was really good a year ago, we were good at stunting and recovering and taking away clean catch-and-shoot 3s. But we struggled, especially against really athletic teams, to prevent them from getting to the rim. So that piece is gonna have to get better."
The only real changes to the Raiders' schedule this season are some slight switch-up of teams in their Red Wing and home tournaments. Looking at the Metro East Conference, Feikema said he fully expects his team to be up there in the top portion of the conference like they have been ever since joining.
"Just kind of looking at our program as a whole, we won the conference four years ago," he said. "The last three years we are 26-10 against the conference, except Tartan and North St. Paul we're 0-12. Tartan and North St. Paul both had Division I guards. So those are the kind of guys we really struggle with and we need to figure out a way to guard those kinds of players a little bit better. And obviously it's going to take a team effort. Tartan is the heavy favorite, they return almost everybody. Mahtomedi is going to be a contender, they're typically one of the top-10 teams in Class 3A in the state. St. Thomas will be good here for another year as they have Jack Thompson back. I think we're right in the mix with St. Thomas and Mathomedi and North St. Paul is pretty close to there."
Hastings started practice on Monday, Nov. 12, and its first games will come in a tournament in Red Wing Friday, Nov. 30 and Saturday, Dec. 1.