Boys prep hoops preseason countdown: #4 WAYNE GENERALS
This is the year that Wayne coach Aaron Rehrer has been anticipating for quite some time.
Armed with the right mix of talent and experience, the Generals enter the 2017-18 season poised to make a big jump in the SAC standings.
It’s a roster that Rehrer has been cultivating for the better part of four seasons, dating back to when the majority of the roster was playing at Miami Middle School.
But are the Generals ready for primetime?
Wayne was consistently inconsistent last season, finishing with an 11-12 record. It notched some impressive performances — 16-point victory over Blackhawk Christian, close losses to Homestead and Snider — but equaled those out with some stinkers.
For Rehrer, it is all about melding the talent he has to work with into a winning team with his top six scorers of a year ago returning.
“This is kind of the class we have been waiting for,” said Rehrer, referring to his junior and senior group that won the city championship two straight years at Miami.
Confidence is a big part of success, particularly in high school hoops in the SAC. Wayne feels like it has that confidence entering the season, but would a slow start with a difficult early-December schedule made up of Jeffersonville, Snider, New Haven, Carroll and Marion derail the season before it really begins?
Similar to the majority of the teams in the SAC this season, Wayne lacks a true post. Junior Craig Young can beat you anywhere on the floor and is a smooth finisher at the basket, but his inside touches will mainly come off offensive rebounds.
Junior Darius Alexander (2.1 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game) at 6-foot-5 will come off the bench to provide some physicality in the paint, but this will be a guard and wing-oriented team.
Senior Shaquan Sanders (4.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg) at 6-2 will be able to come in and provide some minutes off the bench inside.
It begins with Young, who averaged 18.7 points and 9.2 rebounds last year as a sophomore. The junior’s freakish athletic skills make him nearly impossible to guard 1-on-1, forcing defenses to double him. Rehrer hopes that he has the supporting cast to make opponents pay for having to invest so much in attempting to slow down Young.
“Craig can be really good, he can be unbelievable,” Rehrer said. “He is one of those who can get out of the car, come in and do a 360 (dunk).”
Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of Young’s game is his mid-range prowess. As his 59 percent field goal shooting last year can attest, no one in the area can match Young’s abilities to both drive and finish at the basket as well as pull up and drain a shot on the outside.
Juniors Darian Causey (7.3 ppg) and Kylon Jarreau (10.7 ppg) will get plenty of looks in the backcourt and can slash and finish like Young.
Rehrer points to junior point guard Anthony Phillips (4.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.7 apg) as “the glue” of the team.
“He knows the offense like the back of his hand and he knows where everyone is supposed to go,” Rehrer said. “Everyone is going to look at Craig and the other guys, but he’s the glue of this team for sure.”
Junior Demarea Dial, who averaged almost 10 points per game last season, is out to start the year, but could be back in time for the SAC Holiday Tournament.
The backcourt also received a boost from outside of the program when the Redding brothers — senior Dillon and sophomore Michael — transferred from Carroll to Wayne.
“Dillon may be the best shooter I’ve ever coached,” Rehrer said.
THE BIG QUESTION: Can Wayne finish?
The Generals were just 3-7 last year in games decided by seven points or less, including a six-point defeat to eventual sectional champion Homestead to begin the postseason.
Obviously, being able to pull out close games late against quality opponents will go a long way towards determining if Wayne can compete with the big dogs in the SAC.
Rehrer feels confident that his team can do just that.
“Now we are at a point where we have been through the fires and been in some tough games,” Rehrer said. “Last year, we went down to Richmond (at the end of the regular season) and won a tight game on a buzzer beater.
“I think we will be able to finish and not buckle under the pressure as much.”
BIG GAME: Dec. 8 vs. Snider
Wayne has not beaten Snider since the 2013-14 season, which was also the last time the Generals finished with a winning record. With the Panthers in rebuilding mode, particularly early in the season as it figures out which pieces fit where, this is a game Wayne needs to win.
If the Generals can beat a quality SAC foe at home, they will gain confidence going into league game No. 2 one week later at Carroll and into the holiday tournament. A loss to a Snider squad without the experience that Wayne has could be an indicator that nothing much has changed from last year.