ROCHELLE — The Rochelle boys basketball team that closed the season in the IHSA 3A Sterling Regional this past weekend was a far different and much improved group than the one that struggled throughout the November and December months.
The Hubs stumbled out of the gate, dropping three games and finishing sixth at the Strombom Thanksgiving Tournament before compiling a 4-9 record over their first 13 games. Rochelle flipped the script as the calendar turned to 2020, however, posting two separate seven-game winning streaks and finishing 16-3 over the team’s last 19 games.
“The one thing that stands out is how much these boys have grown as players,” head coach Tim Thompson said. “I thought we had struggles with continuity and with being good teammates at the start of the season. We struggled to share the ball, but we started to click right around Christmas time. We started treating each other better, we shared the ball much better, and we knew those were the reasons we started seeing the results that we did.”
Rochelle finished fourth in its first season with the Interstate 8 Conference, compiling a 20-12 overall record and a 9-5 record in conference play. The Hubs topped the 80-point mark five times, with their most notable victories coming near the end of the season, where they made 16 triples in an 88-46 win over Ottawa and beat Sterling for the first time since 2015.
The Hubs will graduate four seniors from the varsity team including Landan Martin, who led Rochelle in points per game (16.7), rebounds per game (6.6) and steals per game (2.4). Guards Austin Brown, Seth Gould and Ben Hickey are also departing, paving the way for Rochelle’s junior class which includes two-year starter Garrett Burdin, who averaged 15.3 points per game and shot a team-high 36.1 percent from 3-point range.
“I thought Garrett grew so much this season,” Thompson said. “His whole game has evolved. I thought he had a tremendous second half defensively. He’s going to have to make huge strides next year because he’s going to be the opposing team’s No. 1 option to stop. He’ll need to learn to get his shot off a bit quicker, use his screens and use more shot fakes to create space.”
Rochelle will also have reinforcements coming in next season from the sophomore team, which finished 24-5 and won the Interstate 8 Conference title this winter. Sophomore starters Ryan Simmons, Tanner Lager, Zach Sanford, Adam Kemp and Noah Brown will all see increased roles on the varsity team next season. Thompson also said that juniors Spencer Warborg, Mike Schlenbecker and Nate Lovett are three players who could step up next season.
“Our sophomores had a wonderful season,” Thompson said. “They have a lot of size and length and those are some traits that make up a good varsity team.”