What a difference a summer makes.
Soroco High School boys basketball coach Sam McLeod thinks an off-season spent at open-gym pickup games and summer tournaments across the state already has pushed his team's skill level past where it was at the end of last season.
McLeod, who is entering his second year with the team, also thinks he won't have to "re-invent the wheel" after losing only two players from last year's squad. The team has seven returning lettermen, so McLeod said he can expand on the systems he introduced last season, work in a few new freshmen and fine-tune elements such as press-breaking and inbound plays before the Rams open their season Friday at a two-day, three-game tournament in DeBeque.
"We're a lot better team than last year," McLeod said. "I think we'll surprise people this year, if we can keep healthy."
McLeod plans to put his best athletes on the floor in a four-guard set centered around the team's tallest post player, 6-foot-5-inch senior Steven Meade. A core of five other seniors will spread the floor to open up the lane for Meade and his sophomore backup, 6-foot-5-inch sophomore Bobby Mason.
Of that group, McLeod noted the improvements made by David Roberts, who likely will be the team's starting point guard. Roberts, who split time between the basketball court and the hockey rink last season, has committed to playing hoops full time this year. McLeod said he might move Roberts to shooting guard because of his effective jump shot and to work in another two-sport winter athlete, senior wrestler Joel Schlegel, who could play point as well.
Returning senior starters Bryan Spaeth and Johnny DeCosta likely will round out the starting lineup. Senior Kane Johnson and sophomore Mike Davis also will see playing time at power forward.
McLeod may work Spaeth as a shooting guard, where he can pair him with Roberts at the top of a 2-3 zone, one of the defensive sets on which the Rams will rely. This setup will help anchor a defense that can capitalize on Meade's shot-blocking skills and Spaeth's ability to make steals and push the ball in transition.
Even with the heavy amount of senior talent, McLeod thinks he has a couple of freshman, Cody Miles and Alex Estes, ready to step in and make immediate contributions.
McLeod thinks the added depth of this year's squad is a necessary component to compete in a district that is tough from "top to bottom." The Rams won only one district game last season, but McLeod thinks his team has worked hard to prepare for the year and to establish a winning mentality.
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