Boys basketball ready to move on from transfer and graduations

Boys basketball ready to move on from transfer and graduations

Cooper James, Sports Writer

All good things must come to an end. But why can’t the new beginning be just as good? This is what the boys basketball team is hoping for after having an incredible season last year.

With a phenomenal 23-1 record, the team drew big crowds and big names. Much of the success was due to the highly recruited sophomore, Xavier Tillman. However, with his recent transfer to Grand Rapids Christian, the team loses a key player on both sides of the ball. Coach Ken George reminds people that he was not their only loss from last year though.

“We didn’t just lose Xavier,” said Coach George. “We lost a lot of really talented players, a few who are going on to play college: Chad, Ike and Alex. [We also lost] Johnny Nutter, a three year player, and Sam Uecker, a great athlete along with Austin Bouma and Wylder Williams.”

With 8 of the top 9 players gone, the team will look much different this year. Captain Jordan George weighed in on how the loss of everyone will affect the team this year.

“It’ll make us one stronger unit,” Jordan said. “And now Connor and I will be the two captains. I think our leadership will be solid and we’ll use this whole experience as a bonding thing to bring us closer together.”

Connor Kelly echoed his co-captain’s thoughts on the matter.

“I think the best part of this team is the togetherness we will play with,” Kelly said. “We have a lot of unselfish guys, so if we play like that, we will be just fine.”

Coach George believes that this togetherness will proliferate from the loss of the talented senior class and the ordeal of Tillman transferring.

“Initially I think it will provide a bit of a rallying point,” said Coach George. “Sometimes, when there’s hardship on a team, or adversity, people will gather around and get together and rise up. And I think that’s what we’re going to initially see.”

With the loss of so many players, there will be many fresh faces on the team this year. The addition of people with no varsity experience is an obvious setback, but the team is taking measures to get them prepared.


“This summer, we really took big steps forward getting our younger guys accustomed to varsity with all the summer camps we did,” said Jordan. “But our JV team was pretty good last year, and some of the juniors who didn’t play a lot last year are very good. I think we’ve got a lot of underrated guys no one really knows about that will step up and really show what they’ve got. It’s going to be a younger team, much less experienced, but a lot of guys who are really intense and ready to play varsity right away.”

These younger players will play a large part in how the team does this year, so their readiness to compete at a varsity level will have to come quickly.

“The emergence of some unproven players will be vital to our success,” said Coach George. “And [Xavier’s] absence will give a variety of people an opportunity to step up and play more minutes and get more done, which should be exciting to all those people.”

Kelly thinks that this addition of younger guys to the team shouldn’t be seen as a weakness at all.

“I don’t think we can use [youth] as an excuse for the season,” Kelly said. “The guys coming up have had really successful years on freshman and JV, so they are used to winning. This is a winning program the past few years, and I think the intention is to keep it that way. It will definitely be a learning year for a lot of guys, but I think we have a chance to still be a pretty solid team that can surprise a lot of people this year.”

It’s obvious that with this new youth, the team has to adjust, especially without Tillman in the middle. His missing presence seems to be shifting the style of play to focus on a more outside attack.

“We’ll be different,” said Jordan, who will most likely be a starting guard himself this year. “[We’ll] try to run the fast break more instead of setting it up down low. We’ll probably play faster, shoot more outside shots, and try to drive with our guards instead of throwing it down low as much.”

His counterpart at captain agrees that there will be a change without varsity experienced centers and forwards.

“In the past few years, we have been really lucky to have good big men we could play off,” said Kelly. “They created a lot for us because there was no way a team could forget about them. This year, I think we will be a much grittier team, and we will be the team you see diving on the floor for every loose ball and doing the tough things to win games. It may not be pretty, but I think that’s how this year’s team will get it done.”

Even with all the talk of the new youth on the team, there are still plenty of returning players from last year as well. This group includes the two captains, Jordan and Kelly, who, according to their coach, are able leaders.

“We have two of the strongest captains I’ve ever had in terms of doing the right thing and being Rangerball type kids,” said Coach George, who is entering his twenty-second season. “And I think it gives those two a great opportunity to not only play well, but lead well.”

Expectations may appear lower for the team, but Jordan looks to make his senior season a good one.

“From our perspective, we still expect to compete for a conference title,” Jordan said. “Outside expectations are going to change and the perception of our team is going to change, but I don’t know how much that really changes what our goal is.”

His dad and head coach reiterated this and believes in his program and kids whole-heartedly.

“Our individual expectations are still going to be very high,” said Coach George. “In Grand Rapids, people will think that we’re not going to be a great team, and that’s going to be a very different place to come from as a coach because last year the expectations were ridiculous – and we met them. I’ve coached long enough that I’ve coached every kind of team, but I’m really excited to coach this team with a city around us that doesn’t think we can be successful, but with a community around us that knows that we still can.”