- Val T.
Culver boys basketball preview: Cavaliers seeking more scoring in Evans’ second season
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
The Culver boys basketball team typically used a double-post offense last year in Kyle Evans’ first season as coach.
That’s when Evans discovered something during the offseason: Auston Zehner and Marquez Anderson, the team’s top two returning post players, were also two of the team’s best shooters.
So that might be one of the challenges as Culver begins Year 2 under Evans. Owen Clingler, last year’s point guard and top scorer, graduated. Braxton Conley, another one of last year’s post players who was known for his gritty defense, also graduated.
Culver improved its scoring average from 33.4 the year before Evans arrived to 37.7 last year, and they improved their win total from one in 2020 to seven last year.
But how will they score more points to pair with a defensive mindset that they developed last year?
“Our big emphasis going into the summer was we had to improve our offensive skill set to give us a chance,” Evans said. “We knew defensively that we were solid last year, and we think we can be even better this year defensively. So we put a big emphasis on the offensive end. And we had a greater turnout from our varsity guys. They really bought in and believed that they could get things done this year, and they know we needed to put in work there.”
The 6-3 Anderson, the 6-4 Zehner and 6-0 wing forward Jalen King might be the team’s most experienced seniors, but the key could be the team’s seven juniors. They include point guard Ethan Keller, top returning scorer Emiliano Ortiz, Shane Shuman, Joey Pizur, Oliver Morgan Steven Pugh and Mason Herbert.
Evans calls Herbert “the best shooter in our program.”
That group of juniors played key roles on a JV team that went 18-2 last year.
Evans noted that Clingler averaged a little over 10 points per game last year but added that he didn’t think the team would struggle finding those 10 points from the players moving up as well as increased production from the senior returnees.
Keller assumed more ballhandling responsibility as the season progressed last year.
“Ethan Keller is our point guard, and I pretty much told him, ‘You’re not coming off the floor,’” Evans said. “‘So you can’t foul, and you don’t get tired.’”
Ortiz also won the team’s defensive player of the year award and noted that he scored a lot of his points in transition after steals and deflections.
Evans wants Ortiz to be more aggressive in the halfcourt.
“He’s a guy where I have to every once in awhile be, ‘Mano, you have to shoot. You have to look to shoot,’” Evans said. “He had an outstanding first week and a half of practice. We think we’ve kind of put him in a position to be a real threat in the halfcourt offense as well.”
Culver’s defensive improvement has been considerable – from a 67.5 defensive average to 55.3 to 43.1 the last three seasons. Evans described the Cavaliers’ defense as a “chaotic trapping zone.”
Anderson has morphed into more of a perimeter role.
“Now he’s become one of our top perimeter threats shooting the basketball,” Evans said of Anderson. “He’ll actually play more around the perimeter this year with the ability to get into the paint. He’s just really not comfortable playing with his back to the basket. But he’s really thrived in a role around the perimeter and maybe driving the basketball and offensive rebound.
“Our best post players are also our best perimeter shooters. … From a post perspective, we really need a lot of production out of an Auston Zehner and Shane Shuman.”
Evans said the players not only accept the importance of defense but crave the work involved to make it happen. They want to be known for being a good defensive team.
“You look at what we do,” Evans said. “It’s not easy because you have to play as hard as you can at all times on the defensive end. Sometimes we can get ourselves in foul trouble doing that, but once we learn to play through that and how to play that kind of chaotic, aggressive pressure defense, we were really strong. … The biggest thing is our guys love the fact that their identity is what we do on the defensive end. They like having something they're known for and it be something positive.”
It leads to an optimistic outlook for the team.
“We’ve got a very experienced group this year, and they’re all seniors and juniors,” Evans said. “We’ve got physicality and guys ready to win now.”
Culver Cavaliers schedule
Nov. 24 – vs. Rochester, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 30 – at West Central, 8 p.m.
Dec. 3 – vs. Lakeland Christian, 8 p.m.
Dec. 7 – at North Miami, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 10 – at Covenant Christian (DeMotte), 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 11 – at Knox, 8 p.m.
Dec. 14 – vs. Winamac, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 18 – vs. Trinity Greenlawn, 1:30 p.m.
Dec. 21 – vs. Tippecanoe Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 7 – at Caston, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 14 – vs. Triton, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 18-22 – Bi-County Tournament (field includes Argos, Bremen, John Glenn, LaVille, New Prairie, Oregon-Davis, Triton)
Jan. 26 – at Oregon-Davis, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 28 – at LaVille, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 10 – at Argos, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 11 – vs. Pioneer, 7 p.m.
Feb. 15 – at North Judson, 8 p.m.
Feb. 17 – at South Central (Union Mills), 8 p.m.
Feb. 19 – at LaCrosse, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 22 – vs. Northfield, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 25 – vs. Bremen, 7:30 p.m.
March 1-5 – Class 1A, Sectional 50 at Triton