ROCHELLE — Basketball season is right around the corner, and Hubs varsity coach Tim Thompson is looking forward to beginning the new season after working out his players during the summer and the fall.
Rochelle surged onto the scene last year, winning 20 games after recording just eight victories over the two previous seasons. Behind senior leaders Caleb Gould, Kyle Seebach, Landon Griffith, Kaywan Palmer and Matt Albers, the Hubs cruised to victory in the E.C. Nichols Holiday Classic at Marengo High School and reached the regional championship before falling to Belvidere 61-58.
“We had a great summer with the kids and we’ve been doing individual workouts since September,” Thompson said. “The kids are antsy to play somebody different and we’re looking forward to the season…. We had a really good core group of seniors and that helped us build some momentum around Christmas at the Marengo tournament. If that regional championship went 10 more seconds, we’d be hanging a plaque up.”
Eight players graduated from the 2016 roster, and senior Angel Aguirre returns this year as Rochelle’s lone starter. While Aguirre will command the point guard duties, senior Riley Lodico could step in and fill Rochelle’s second backcourt spot after coming off the bench last season.
“Those juniors got to see what success felt like,” Thompson said. “They’re going to be huge for us. Angel has played a lot of minutes and this is going to be his third year of varsity basketball. He’s quick, he can get to the rim and he’s shooting the ball really well. Riley’s played with me for two years and he’s always been a scorer… They’ll need to take the pressure off of other guys.”
With two key players leaving the frontcourt, the Hubs will look to 6-foot-8-inch junior Johnny Beck to carry the scoring and rebounding load in the paint. Beck hit a handful of critical shots for Rochelle last season including a 3-pointer to lift the Hubs over Morris in the final seconds.
“There will be a lot of players collapsing around Johnny so he’ll have to be an efficient passer,” Thompson said. “Johnny can bring people outside and he can drive past them. He’s got great touch and he’s jumping well. I think playing a whole season and banging against guys like Matt and Kyle… His summer has made him a more physical presence.”
Seniors Noah Mershon and Noah Griffith are returning from last season to fill roles in the backcourt, while senior Komla Gati will bring his high-energy rebounding and defensive abilities to the floor in the frontcourt.
The three seniors playing sparingly in 2016, but Thompson will be looking for them to play bigger roles on the varsity team this time around.
“Noah Griffith spent a lot of time last year working on his shot and I think he can knock down shots consistently,” Thompson said. “Noah Mershon is a three-sport athlete and the quarterback of the football team so he has natural leadership qualities and he’s a confident player. We have a bruiser like Komla who can get rebounds and attack the rim, so it’s going to start with our guard play, and working our way through Johnny is going to be huge.”