Boys Prep Hoops Preseason Countdown: #10 CANTERBURY CAVALIERS
There are a couple of clear divides at the top of this year’s area teams. One of those divides, like last season, sits right about the 9, 10 and 11 spots where teams like Northrop and Lakewood Park hung around last year. Canterbury is likely to hang out there all year as one of those teams that could look like a world beater one day and like a team trying to find their identity on others.
The rhythm of Canterbury as a top area Class 2A team got rocked last year with the abrupt loss of leading scorer Jalen Paul in the fall. But they found composure over the year again and come into the 2017-2018 season looking poised to regain their way at the top of small school pile in the area.
“It’s going to be an interesting year because usually you have expectations of how things are going to come together and this year we don’t,” said head coach Scott Kreiger. “We have a lot of young guys who can play, but they are young. They scrap, they play hard and we’ve got some good solid leadership. So you see what pieces are out there and what to put together.”
They graduated three seniors, two of whom played more than 20 minutes a game, but a strong core is back for coach Kreiger who has just eight 1A and 2A teams on the schedule, looking to strengthen the Cavaliers for a postseason run. They will have their ups and downs, especially in a challenging January where they will visit Leo, Snider, Northrop, play in the two-day Culver Tournament and host games with South Side, Lakewood Park, Columbia City and South Adams.
Senior Cam Kreiger has long been one of the most dangerous scorers on the court for Canterbury and his presence will only increase in his final season. Last year, Kreiger didn’t get to fit into things as naturally after Jalen Paul’s late transfer to Churubusco left Kreiger in the driver’s seat, maybe not quite ready to handle the keys just yet. Still, he managed to average 14.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game and keep the Cavaliers in the Sectional title conversation.
Expect to see a more relaxed Cam Kreiger this year. The heaviest burden will still land on him, but with a year of maturity and the understanding of that expectation, he will be more ready to handle driving his team this year.
“He had to bare such a load last year because he was the only kid with experience at all,” Scott Kreiger said. “And then he had to become the point guard and leading scorer. He was a real stat stuffer, but he needed to be. This year I think we are going to put some pieces around him that take some of the load off.”
He will get help inside from fellow senior Keegan McArdle (4 points, 4.1 rebounds per game), fresh off being part of the school’s state champion soccer team. And while there isn’t usually much to correlate from soccer to basketball, winning does breed winning and McArdle will bring the perfect attitude and leadership to this group.
“He’s just an amazing defender, so crafty and capable,” Scott Kreiger said.
Juniors Jaylen Williams and Ned Ijomanta and sophomore Arnad Samardzic will see some minutes at the forward positions. They will need to crash the boards hard to make up for the lost rebounding of Ned’s brother, 2017 graduate Mez, who led the team with 7.5 rebounds per game last year.
Sophomore Noah Wolfe’s emergence, even in some losses, down the stretch last season really helped the Cavaliers open things up more for Cam Kreiger. Wolfe (7.5 points per game) took on a lot of the on ball pressure that Kreiger had been forced into. His primary backcourt mate could be junior Lex Skekloff, who saw a small amount of varsity action last season. A solid spot up shooter, Skekloff could get some nice open looks as teams key on both Kreiger and Wolfe.
“Noah is a kid who has worked so hard. He’s in the gym all of the time working on his ball handling, working on his shooting. He’s a gym rat,” said Scott Kreiger. “He’s got a little more size and strength to him, he’s got a little more experience and he could really be a breakout player. He’s going to have some really good ball games this winter.”
Sophomores Noah Drapala and Holiday Stephenson will provide the team’s backup at the guard positions and don’t forget that we will likely see Kreiger play a lot on the wing as well, floating between the front and back courts.
THE BIG QUESTION
How well can they build themselves up for the postseason? Not playing in a conference brings pros and cons. Of course, there is no title to play for during the winter months, no in-season conference tournaments or individual accolades. But, there is a heavy pro: the focus from day one can all be on the postseason and a chance at a Sectional title.
“For us, that is sort of the approach we have taken because we don’t have anything else to play for,” said Scott Kreiger. “Last year, our schedule was the second strongest in the north semistate of 2A and I feel good about that because that means we are pushing ourselves and exposing our weaknesses and we aren’t just playing along to rack up a bunch of wins.”
Canterbury won five Sectionals in a six year span and were often inches from returning to the title game last year in a two point, three overtime loss to Eastside in the semi-finals.
BIG GAME TO WATCH
December 1 against Concordia Lutheran. Last year, the Cavaliers dropped a game to the Cadets, who then didn’t win again until February and won only twice more all season after beating Canterbury in their opener. It was arguably the worst blemish on their season and one that Canterbury will be looking to get back in just their third game this season.