ROCHELLE — Moving to the Interstate 8 Conference means new competition for the Rochelle boys basketball team, and head coach Tim Thompson thinks the league title can be won by any of the eight high schools taking the floor this winter.
The Hubs tipped off the 2019 season with practices Monday afternoon, and the boys will have about two weeks to prepare for their opening game against Belvidere in the first round of the Strombom Thanksgiving Tournament at Sycamore High School on Nov. 26. Rochelle has several guards returning from 2018 including starters Austin Brown, Landan Martin and Seth Gould.
“We have a lot of guards and some of those guards gave us a lot of minutes last year,” Thompson said. “Those guys will have to carry the load because they’ve been through all of the battles. I thought they went through all the ups and downs that come with being a new player on the varsity team last year and I thought they played their best basketball down the stretch.”
Junior 3-point specialist Garrett Burdin also returns to the Hubs this winter, and Rochelle will need all the production it can get as the varsity program looks to replace All-Conference forward Johnny Beck, who averaged over 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocks per game last season. The Hubs are seeking to build off their 15-17 record from 2018.
“We have to shoot a high percentage from beyond the arc,” Thompson said. “You can’t just replace an All-State caliber player like Johnny who was probably the best shot blocker I’ve seen in my 21 years here. Every type of defense we ran would funnel guys to him and he blocked a lot of shots. We don’t have that same rim protection this year so our defense will be different.”
While the Hubs will have plenty of guards to rotate into the game, building depth at forward will be critical moving forward. Thompson said that sophomore Ryan Simmons and senior Ben Hickey are two players who could see meaningful minutes at that position. Rochelle begins conference play against Kaneland on Dec. 6.
“The kids who played last season would love to win a conference championship and a regional championship this year,” Thompson said. “I think it’s going to be a very open league and I don’t think there’s really a top end of the conference like there was in the Northern Illinois Big 12. I think most of the teams this year are pretty equal and whoever wins the conference this year will likely have some losses. We’re really looking forward to competing in the new conference.”