Caston boys basketball preview:
Juniors to play key role, but how will style change without Schanlaub, Rans?
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
The Caston boys basketball team might well have lived both a fairytale and a nightmare within a week in March.
They won their first sectional title in 11 years, beating rival Pioneer on their home floor and then cutting down the nets. They won 13 games after winning just 15 games the previous four seasons combined.
And then their season ended, not with a loss but with the state tournament being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Caston lost seniors Hunter Schanlaub, Mike Rans, Luke Lowe and Wyatt Brumett. Schanlaub, Rams and Lowe were starters. Not only did the pandemic deny the Comets a chance to compete in the regional, but it cost Schanlaub a chance at 1,000 career points. Schanlaub, who averaged 16 points per game last year, finished with 989.
“We’re fortunate to have some guys coming back with varsity experience, but it’ll just be a different mix without those seniors,” fourth-year coach Carl Davis said.
So how might Caston’s style of play change without the players that graduated? Schanlaub and Rans were the team’s top two scorers.
Junior Sam Smith and senior Jessie Rock-Wolf are the top frontcourt returnees. Davis praises Smith’s consistency, adding that he is “tough through and through” and that he plays so hard and never stops moving. He said he relocates himself so well on the floor when a teammate drives to the basket and rebounds well out of his area.
“I think a lot of what we’ve done in the past won’t change,” Davis said. “We really like the interior players we have. They’re different than Hunter and Mike were. Mike was so skilled with the ball in his hands on the perimeter as well. He didn’t spend a ton of time inside, but he’d go down in there for a good matchup once in awhile, but Sam Smith is somebody who we're really excited about. He’s put a ton of work in in the offseason, and he’s really developed his low-post game and someone who has the ability to score around the rim.”
If Caston can get the ball inside, that can also lead to perimeter looks for senior Cam Kline and junior Kade Zeider.
“And we think Jessie Rock-Wolf has the ability to go down there and post up,” Davis added. “He showed it in spurts last year. He’s crafty around the rim getting his shot off. We’re not going to stop looking to get the ball inside. Good things happen, even when we’re not scoring, when the ball goes inside. That forces the defense to collapse and gives us the opportunity to run some actions off that post entry as well that we really like that can get open shots on the perimeter or guys at the rim.”
While Caston does have experienced seniors like Kline and Rock-Wolf, it might be the junior class who will play a bigger role. That includes Zeider, the team’s top returning scorer; Joey Spin, who Davis identifies as the point guard; and Smith. Bryce Rudicel and Jake Paschen are JV veterans who also saw some spare varsity minutes last year as sophomores. Grant Hickle is another junior that will compete for playing time in the frontcourt.
Davis said Rudicel is “sneaky” defensively and also brings versatility. Paschen had a “great” offseason who worked in the weight room during the offseason to develop his body while expanding his offensive skills, which Davis said includes court vision that makes him a good passer.
“We’re fortunate to have guards back with quite a bit of experience and some younger kids who will mix into that as well,” Davis said. “We always work on it regardless of who we have on the team.”
Davis praises Spin, saying that his steadiness and consistency was a big part of the team’s success.
“Turnovers are something that we’ve struggled with the last few years, and last year, that number came down quite a bit,” Davis said. “I think a lot of it just had to do with his maturity with the ball in his hands and his decision making.”
Shooters like Zeider and Kline allow the Comets to achieve floor spacing.
“We’re excited to have Kade and Cam back in the backcourt, and their ability to get hot and really change the complexion of a game – we saw that a few times last year – and they’re two kids who have worked in the offseason to get better in that area of the game as well, and we’re excited to be able to spread the floor. With Joey having the ball in his hands and being able to attack knowing there are shooters on the outside, it’s tough to help on Joey’s driving. Joey is someone who’s worked really hard in the offseason to improve his perimeter shooting as well, so we’re really excited for those possibilities.”
The only sophomore on the varsity roster is 5-8 guard Colby Pugh.
“He’s just a really explosive player,” Davis said. “He’s really tough to stop when he gets downhill, and his quickness and athleticism gives us a little something different on the defensive end of the floor as well.”
Seniors Carter See and Kobi Martindale and 6-4 sophomore Cain Schanlaub will compete with Smith, Rock-Wolf and Hickle for minutes at the power forward and center spots.
“We graduated some great leadership, but our seniors are team-first guys who aren’t afraid to speak up when something is not going their way,” Davis said. “But I’ve been impressed with the junior class too. You’re starting to see some of those guys who are more soft-spoken and quiet, they’re showing some fire in terms of leadership, so it’s been exciting to see them develop in that way as well.”
Davis emphasizes keeping the ball out of the paint – that, and communication. Shyness on defense is not a virtue.
“We want to be known as the loudest team around,” Davis said.
Caston has replaced Lakeland Christian with Wabash as its opponent for its opener. It’s the first time in nine years they have opened the season with somebody other than Lakeland Christian. Wabash went 19-5 and won the Three Rivers Conference last year.
Caston will play Pioneer at Logansport on Dec. 2 in the Cass County Invitational. They will meet again at Pioneer Jan. 29 in their regular season meeting. A third potential matchup could occur in Class 1A, Sectional 52, which Tri-County will host from March 2-6.
Caston will travel to Knox for their Hoosier North opener on Dec. 18. It’s their only scheduled game against a Class 3A or 4A opponent.