Experience primes Aces basketball for another special season
MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. -- Just two years removed from an Illinois Class 2A State Championship berth, Mount Carmel’s boys basketball team appear -- at least on paper -- to have the experience to allow for another postseason run, boasting five seniors on this year’s team.
They return two starters who played on that team, senior Austin Rager and senior Bret Doan. Rager and Doan’s postseason experience assuredly will help the Aces, especially early in the season.
“We had two 6′8, 6′7 kids who were both Division I athletes, it’s always hard to parallel that,” Mount Carmel head coach Tyler Buss said. “I do think just the fact that we have two starters back from that team that are going into their senior year. They’ve added stuff to their game and we do have some nice pieces in the classes behind them. I wouldn’t call it a parallel, but I do think this is a team that can be just as successful if we can get better and things go the right way.”
Rager and Doan each add a dimension to the Aces offense that looks to be one of their strengths -- scoring. Rager, already having surpassed 1,000 points scoring as an Ace, and Doan, a lethal three-point shooter, are key cogs in a Mount Carmel offense that will force opponents to “pick their poison” according to the coach Buss.
The two aforementioned bigs, Justin Carpenter and Jackson Marcotte, appear to be something that the Aces lack on paper. Buss -- entering his eighth season on the job -- expects sophomore Kaleb Applebey to fill that void left by Marcotte and take a leap for the Aces this season. Applebey received significant playing time as a freshman with Marcotte out for much of the season. Coach Buss feels the experience and practicing with Marcotte will help Applebey this season.
“I look at a kid like Kaleb Applebey, who got to practice against Jackson Marcotte toward the end of the year last year, he got to get some crucial minutes early in the year, where he may have not gotten those without Jackson being out,” coach Buss said. “He’s a kid we really look for to take that next step and should be a really nice season for him.”
Some concerns for the Aces entering the season, their lack of depth and defense. Coach Buss feels he has a strong starting five, but he’s looking for reserves off the bench to emerge and bring key minutes to the Aces throughout the season. With their depth a question early, it’s pivotal for key players such as Rager, Doan and Applebey to stay out of foul trouble, especially Applebey as one of Mount Carmel’s lone big presences.
Defensively, the loss of Marcotte hurts a group who has to continue to work on their communication. Though that will improve as the group builds chemistry and experience as the year goes on.
Coach Buss does feel the group has done an exceptional job in practice preparing for their first game, as the intensity of practice has been where he feels it needs to be. Having five seniors certainly helps with setting the tone at practice early in the season, as many of them have led by example for the younger guys.
“Like I said, all of our seniors have did a good job of leading by example,” coach Buss said. “Our intensity in practice has been where it needs to be which is good. When you get into this last week everyone’s looking forward to getting the games going, but it’s going to be an important last couple practices here so we need to continue that. I wouldn’t say one kid individually, but I think the seniors have done a good job of leading by example.”
Their first challenge to test this group, they have the Capital Classic at Red Hill High School. Tipoff for the first game is set at 11 a.m., at which they’ll face Red Hill. The Aces are guaranteed three games, but could potentially play four in the two-day stretch. Coach Tyler Buss previewed the three teams they’ll face in the Classic.
“Red Hill has two starters returning from last year that can really score the basketball,” coach Buss said. “Drew Moore, #23 is probably one of the best guards we’ll see in the tournament, he can really fill it up. Anytime you’re starting the year with a team on their home floor that can always be a challenge.”
Their second game will pit them against Teutopolis at 6 p.m. on Friday. Teutopolis has emerged as a rival for the Aces in recent years, with Mount Carmel holding the recent advantage, including a 48-47 win in the sectional championship last year.
“Ttown in the night game has turned into one of the better rivalries in the state,” coach Buss spoke of Teutopolis. “We’ve seen them a couple times over the last four years and actually ended their season the last two years, but the two years before that they ended ours. It’s a really, really healthy rivalry there that our kids are excited to play them, I think our fans enjoy that competition and we lost to them in overtime in this tournament last year, but beat them in the sectional championship.”
The final guaranteed game will have the Aces face Marshall at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Coach Tyler Buss isn’t sure what to expect from Marshall, but was assuring that every team in the tournament is a tough challenge. Depending on how successful they are in the tournament, there’s potential they could also have another game on Saturday night.
“Marshall’s a bit of an unknown, we haven’t seen much of them over the last few years,” coach Buss said. “I think two or three years ago they had a nice freshman who’s now a junior who will present some problems because he’s 6′7, 6′8, outside of that, this tournament as a whole, both sides of the bracket are very well coached and you have to be ready to go each night.”
Just days away from the beginning of the season, his team remains eager for the season to begin and the challenge to play against someone other than themselves. Coach Buss knows they’ll be some errors early in the year, but does feel confident in his team.
“We’re ready to play somebody,” coach Buss said. “These next few days are going to be really important for us. I think we’ve done a good job of trying to put our guys in a lot of different situations that they may see over those course of four games. I think especially early in the year, you’re not going to shoot it as good as you want to, you’re probably going to turn it over more and have some of that sloppy play, but if you’re playing hard and playing things the right way, I think we’ll like where we are at the end of the week.”
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. Again, where our program has got to and the momentum we have as a program is something special and I know our guys are ready to continue it and build off of it.”