Repeat? Not out of the question for Shenendehowa boys’ basketball

Mike Collins, left, defends Kevin Huerter during a Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 Shenendehowa boys' basketball practice in Clifton Park. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Sportswriter)Mike Collins, left, defends Kevin Huerter during a Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 Shenendehowa boys' basketball practice in Clifton Park. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Sportswriter)

BY MICHAEL KELLY
Gazette Sportswriter

CLIFTON PARK — Five key players from last year’s championship team have graduated and are gone, but the high expectations for Shenendehowa boys’ basketball team did not depart with them.

“This year, it’s really no different,” senior guard Kevin Huerter said. “We’re trying to win games, as many as possible.”

Of course, the Plainsmen’s business-as-usual outlook is different from other schools in Section II, as the defending Class AA state champions have enough firepower to make a repeat bid a realistic possibility. Coming off a 25-1 season that included a 76-63 state title victory against Brentwood, Shenendehowa will enter the season as a clear favorite.

However, the makeup of this year’s team is quite different from last year’s squad. While last year’s Plainsmen bullied teams down low and played stifling defense, this Shenendehowa crew should be more adept at putting the ball in the basket.

Evan McMahon, left, drives against Evan Paddock during a Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 Shenendehowa boys' basketball practice in Clifton Park. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Sportswriter)

Evan McMahon, left, drives against Evan Paddock during a Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 Shenendehowa boys’ basketball practice in Clifton Park. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Sportswriter)

“We’re lacking in overall size compared to last year, but we shoot the ball a lot better from the outside,” head coach Tony Dzikas said.

A year ago, Shenendehowa used a rotation of five burly bigs to wear down opposing teams. This season, the post rotation is down to three players — 6-foot-3 seniors Michael Gillooley and Evan Paddock and 6-foot-7 junior Mike Pizziketti — but the Plainsmen have more shooters and open-court playmakers around Huerter, the team’s University of Maryland-commit.

Head coach Tony Dzikas is shown during a Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 Shenendehowa boys' basketball practice in Clifton Park. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Sportswriter)

Head coach Tony Dzikas is shown during a Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 Shenendehowa boys’ basketball practice in Clifton Park. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Sportswriter)

“We’re more 3-point-oriented this year, but I think we still have the ability to play rough with our big guys,” said junior guard Luke Hicks, whose squad starts play Dec. 1 at home against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.

“Our offense is definitely oriented around guard play, and we have a lot of guards that can fit in and keep things going,” Huerter said.

Besides Hicks and Huerter, senior guard Petar Bebic is the lone Shenendehowa returning player with significant varsity playing experience on the perimeter. But a host of guards — such as senior Mike Collins and junior Evan Warner — are expected to offer quality minutes for a Plainsmen team that will likely lean on guard-heavy lineups.

“It’s next man up,” Bebic said of the team’s mentality when it comes to playing time. “Whoever is more determined is going to play more.”

Petar Bebic, left, defends Mike Collins during a Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 Shenendehowa boys' basketball practice in Clifton Park. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Sportswriter)

Petar Bebic, left, defends Mike Collins during a Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 Shenendehowa boys’ basketball practice in Clifton Park. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Sportswriter)

Nobody, though, is going to supplant Huerter, last year’s Suburban Council Player of the Year and the most valuable player of the state tournament. The 6-foot-6 guard is fresh from an offseason in which he played AAU basketball all across the country and competed at a camp where he took on NBA stars, and the star is expected to show a more well-rounded game in his fourth varsity season.

“He’s gotten a lot better defensively,” Dzikas said. “He’s so long and he’s more aggressive now. He’s fighting through screens and doing a really good job on that end.”

Shenendehowa will be the circled date on all of its opponents’ schedules this season. Huerter said the Plainsmen will be ready to take each team’s best shot.

“Everyone here is battle-tested,” he said. “Right now, we’re all just working at getting better.”

About the Author

Michael Kelly
Michael Kelly is a sports reporter for Your Clifton Park and Your Niskayuna, weekly print publications of The Daily Gazette. Kelly grew up in Clifton Park and graduated from Shenendehowa High School in 2006. He is also a 2010 graduate of the Stony Brook University School of Journalism. Kelly's work has been honored by the New York News Publishers Association, the New York State Associated Press Association, and the Associated Press Sports Editors. His work has previously been featured in The (Amsterdam) Recorder, The Saratogian, and Albany Times Union.