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  • Val T.

Culver boys basketball preview:

‘We’ve got the team to compete for a sectional championship:’ Cavs return top 4 scorers for Evans’ 3rd season


BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

The Culver boys basketball team showed up for the season’s first practice on Nov. 7, and while the first two weeks of practice for many teams might be a slow ramping-up before the regular season starts, third-year coach Kyle Evans found his team to be much more ready than that.

“I said this after Day 1, and I really meant it: I felt like we could have went and played a game Day 1 and been ready,” Evans said. “I really do. I don’t think I’ve ever said that or felt like that before. Ever. There hasn’t been any fall-off. There wasn’t any re-teaching of anything. It was as crisp as it was back in the summer as it was last winter.

“We’ve got the team to compete for a sectional championship this year,” Evans said.

Part of that might have to do with the composition of the roster. Of the eight players listed on the varsity roster, seven of them are seniors.

That includes the top four scorers from last year: guards Ethan Keller and Emiliano Ortiz and forwards Mason Herbert and Shane Shuman.

“He really struggled that whole second half of the year last year, and he just admitted to me he just ran out of gas,” Evans said of Ortiz. “He spent a lot of time in the weight room with me. He’s in a weights class with me, so he spends a lot of time getting his body prepared, and that’s one of the comments he’s made to me the last few weeks is he’s not running out of gas this year. I think the way he has matured his body has made him more confident.”

Herbert is the second-leading returning scorer, and at 6-5, Evans and his staff continue to try and diversify his skill set. (Evans later reported that Herbert will miss the first six weeks of the season at a minimum due to a knee injury. Evans also said that season-ending surgery has not been ruled out for Herbert.)

“He pretty much has developed a game from anywhere,” Evans said. “I don’t think you can say there’s a spot on the floor he can’t score from anymore. He’s always been able to score in the post. He’s always been able to shoot from 3. The one thing that he’s lacked the last couple years is the ability to make something happen off the dribble, and I think that’s where he’s made his most improvement.”

Keller is in his second full season as the varsity point guard, and Evans sees him as something of a barometer for the team.

“When he’s good, we’re really good,” Evans said.

Evans said he’s “put a lot on his shoulders” and added he would like for him to drive more to the basket and finish at the rim.

“He’s 140 pounds,” Evans said. “Physically, he’s one of our strongest kids in the entire school. Believe it or not. Pound for pound, he probably is the strongest kid in our school in the weight room. That is where I think you’ll see the biggest difference in Ethan Keller this year. He can get to the paint at will. There’s not many guys that are going to keep him in front. … He’s ready to play bully ball in the paint, even as a 5-9, 140-pound point guard. And that’s where when he gets in the paint, really, really good things happen for us.”

Shuman, a 6-2 senior who also stars as a fullback and linebacker on the football team, could expand his role.

“He’ll be a post player for us,” Evans said. “He’ll stay in the post, and he won’t come out much outside of setting ball screens. He’s a guy that probably won’t come off the court hardly at all either. But he’s got a high motor. He works tirelessly, and he doesn’t really run out of gas. … He’ll rebound for us. He can score one-on-one in the post. He’s a very, very good offensive rebounder. Where he’s going to get a lot of his points are carving out space down low and on the offensive boards and getting those putbacks and to the free throw line. Shane’s going to be a huge piece for us this year.”

Other seniors include 6-1 forward Oliver Morgan, 6-2 forward Joey Pizur and 5-9 guard Jermaine White. Evans praised both Morgan and Pizur for their “nitty gritty” work ethics.

David Hite, a 5-10 sophomore guard, is the only non-senior listed on the varsity roster. (Jonas McCuen, a 5-11 freshman guard, also saw brief playing time in the season opener against Rochester on Nov. 23.)

Culver increased their scoring average from 37.7 to 40 from Evans’ first year as coach to his second asa the team compiled consecutive 7-16 records. Evans sees another spike this year, and the defensive pressure that Keller and Ortiz apply on opposing teams’ ballhandlers will be the reason.

“We’re going to be able to put up points with this group because of their ability to pressure and turn that into transition,” Evans said. “We’ve been very good on the defensive end, and we’ve had our moments where we were good offensively, but the part we were really missing was converting turnovers and run-outs to actual points, and I think that will be the biggest difference this year.

“This team’s going to put up points, and it’s going to be defensively, they’re actually going to convert those to points. I think that’s what Ethan and Mano (Ortiz) do really, really well.”

Schedule

Tippecanoe Valley, Northfield and DeMotte Christian are off the schedule. Culver will travel to Logansport for a game the final week of the regular season. Culver also added a tournament at Hebron on Dec. 28-29. By adding the Hebron tournament, they eliminated a three-week chasm in the schedule during the holiday season.

Nov. 23 – at Rochester, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 29 – vs. West Central, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 2 – at Lakeland Christian, 8 p.m.

Dec. 6 – vs. North Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 10 – vs. Knox, 8 p.m.

Dec. 13 – at Winamac, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 17 – at Trinity Greenlawn, 1:30 p.m.

Dec. 28-29 – at Hebron tournament

Jan. 6 – vs. Caston, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 13 – at Triton, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 17-21 – Bi-County Tournament (field includes Argos, Bremen, John Glenn, LaVille, New Prairie, Oregon-Davis, Triton)

Jan. 25 – vs. Oregon-Davis, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 27 – vs. LaVille, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 9 – vs. Argos, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 10 – at Pioneer, 7 p.m.

Feb. 14 – vs. North Judson, 8 p.m.

Feb. 16 – vs. South Central (Union Mills), 8 p.m.

Feb. 18 – vs. Tri-Township, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 21 – at Logansport, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 24 – at Bremen, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 28-March 4 – Class 1A, Sectional 50 at Triton

Class 1A, Sectional 50

Culver, Argos, Marquette Catholic, Trinity Greenlawn, Triton, Westville


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