AP NEWS

Boys basketball: Team game brings Austin together

March 20, 2019

Senior Medi Obang was the lone starter back from last year’s Austin team that finished fourth in the state in Class AAA.

And for quite a while this season the Packers were content to let the athletic guard shoulder the scoring load.

But just past the halfway point in this season, other Austin players began to step up and embrace their scoring opportunities.

The Packers responded by going 9-1 over their last 10 games and have once again qualified for the Class AAA state tournament.

Under coach Kris Fadness, Austin has now claimed six of the past eight Section 1AAA titles.

“Medi was just carrying the load,” Fadness said. “But I thought over the past 10 games we got better at sharing the basketball and everyone got involved. We got more team oriented.”

Fadness calls Obang “explosive and strong” and the 6-foot-1 guard still has averaged 19 points per game this season, but the Packers managed to win in the section semifinals without him scoring a single point.

And Fadness likes more offensive balance just fine.

“I really like our offensive skills; we have a lot of players who can shoot it,” Fadness said. “We have to be better at decision making at times. We can’t just settle for threes, we need to have more inside-outside (ball movement).”

The third-seeded Packers (23-5) will be looking for a strong all-around game when they face unseeded Monticello (14-15) in the state quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Williams Arena. Monticello might have a sub-.500 record, but Fadness is not taking the Magic lightly.

“It’s all about playing well at the right time,” Fadness said. “And give Monticello credit, they won their section. You have to be ready to play and play your best.”

While Obang has sparked the Packers offensively, Agwa Nywesh has emerged greatly during the season.

The lone junior in the starting lineup, Nywesh took a while to recover from a broken ankle suffered last season. Now Fadness calls the lightning-quick guard “a real stat stuffer” who has the potential to be a Division I player. Nywesh is second on the team in scoring (16.5 ppg) and first in rebounding (4.5) as well as first in steals (3.1) and second in assists (2.8).

“He’s really a leader for us,” Fadness said. “He plays with a lot of energy and is a key defender for us on the press.”

The Packers like to use their pressure 1-2-2 trapping defense to force turnovers and create breaks for the offense.

“We want to trap and run,” Fadness said. “We definitely feel we can create havoc with our speed. We’re fast; this might be the fastest team we’ve ever had.”

And that’s saying a lot considering the Packers have had three teams finish as state runners-up in the past eight seasons.

But this Austin team needs to use its speed and quickness as it is not very tall.

No starter is taller than 6-2 and the biggest player off the bench is 6-3 sophomore Teyghan Hovland (3.8 rebounds per game).

The Packers use a four-guard starting offense as twins Ngor (9.5 ppg) and Dongrin Deng (6.3 ppg) are also in the starting lineup along with forward Gavin Owens (5.0 ppg).

“The Deng twins have a lot of speed and quickness,” Fadness said.

Along with Nywesh, Obang (2.9 per game) has excelled at collecting steals this season as have Dongrin Deng (2.5), Ngor Deng (2.4) and LaHenry Gills (1.5).

Hovland (4.1 ppg) and Gills (5.2 ppg), a quick 5-6 guard, are key players off the bench for the Packers.

“We feel we’re deep and athletic and have a lot of guys who can shoot and handle the ball,” Fadness said.

Monticello is led by trio of players who average in double figures in Austin Wetter (17.7 ppg), Austin Puppe (12.6 ppg) and Blake Thompson (11.7).

If the Packers can get past Monticello, a meeting with second-seeded Waseca (28-1) could be on tap in Thursday’s state semifinals.

Top-seeded DeLaSalle (24-5), which has defeated Austin three times in the title game in the past eight seasons, looms in the other half of the bracket.

“I like our chances,” Fadness said. “I like where we’re at and I like our team. We don’t lack for confidence.”