Rochester boys basketball preview: ‘You’re only as good as your seniors:’
Malchow hopes that with more experience, Zebras can be more competitive
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
The Rochester boys basketball team slipped from 18 wins two years ago to nine wins last year.
They went 9-0 in the Three Rivers Conference two years ago but just 4-5 last year.
They scored 2.5 fewer points per game and allowed 14.6 points more.
They ended the season on a five-game losing streak, including a 34-point loss to Lewis Cass in the sectional quarterfinals.
But the way 15th-year coach Rob Malchow looks at it, his team might have overachieved in 2021-22. From his standpoint, Rochester graduated four starters from a team that had won back-to-back sectionals and was trying to incorporate transfer Paul Leasure to an inexperienced roster that had only one senior.
Leasure averaged 13.4 points per game and made first-team all-TRC, and Malchow admired what Leasure did for the team. As a newcomer from Tippecanoe Valley, Leasure had to learn an offense, a defense, out of bounds plays, press breakers. Malchow said that Leasure’s year was like being a freshman all over again.
“Last year, in my mind, we overachieved,” Malchow said. “Because at the end of 2021, I remember calling guys in and going, ‘Listen, I see three, five wins at best. I don’t see us winning more games than that. You guys got to buckle up.’ … Paul coming in was a huge help, but he was a rookie. … He did a really good job of acclimating, but it’s a process.”
Now Malchow hopes that Rochester can take a step further, even though first-team all-TRC point guard Tarick McGlothin chose not to play this year. Leasure is back, and so is honorable mention all-TRC forward Tanner Reinartz.
Rochester lost six games by 20 or more points last year, and Malchow noted a trend: Most of the losses were to senior-laden teams. Now he hopes that this team will be one of those experienced teams.
“This year, I’m hoping where we’ll see a change and … why could it be better this year is this year we’ve got six seniors,” Malchow said. “And I’ve always said you’re only as good as your seniors. And that’s just the facts. … You look at teams that do really well in tournament time and throughout the season and instead of the hills and valleys are more consistent, I think you’re usually going to see that they have three, four, five seniors that are leading that team. They’ve been around the block.”
In addition to Leasure, the other seniors are guard Brock Bowers, forward Luke Hunting, guard-forwards Aidan Smith and Ethan Medina and newcomer Tyree Cox.
Malchow said that Leasure, Smith and sophomore Drew Bowers will be a “three-headed monster” at point guard. Smith has not played in a varsity game since a loss to Tippecanoe Valley on Jan. 14 due to a head injury.
Though listed at 5-11, Smith is also one of the team’s top rebounders and defenders, according to Malchow.
“Aidan’s still working through some stuff,” Malchow said. “I don't know where he’ll be for sure in terms of availability, but things are looking a lot better now than they did, and hopefully, he’ll continue to grow and be able to health-wise play.”
Brock Bowers scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning 3-pointer against Manchester in January, and received regular minutes after that.
Hunting was the team’s third leading scorer last year.
“Luke Hunting has just really been good in practice because he’s just so much more confident, playing at a level that you’d hope he’d find at some point,” Malchow said. “Last year, I think (he) was always playing … like there was always a question mark on his forehead. Now he’s playing more like there’s an exclamation point and a period.”
Malchow called Medina the “grit guy” and has embraced a “dirty work mentality.”
Luke Malchow, who is Rob Malchow’s nephew, is the only junior in the program.
Malchow said the seniors will take the “brunt of the heat” for the developing sophomores.
Reinartz is one of three sophomores that saw varsity minutes last season along with center Xavier Vance and Owen Prater.
“We’ve got five sophomores that are contributing to our practices a lot,” Malchow said. “A couple of those guys are probably going to be JV/varsity-type guys, but as far as what we’re doing on a daily basis, those sophomores are getting a lot of opportunities in varsity practices, and we know what Tanner did last year for us. He’s back this year, and he’ll be one of our key guys this year, and I think ‘X’ is going to be in a similar situation and have those types of opportunities as well.”
Reinartz has a varied skill set offensively.
“He can shoot the perimeter shot but go down low and post guys up and rebound,” Malchow said. “That’s what we tell Tanner: If he has a smaller guy on him, he has that strength and that body now to go down low and score. And at the same time, if there is a bigger guy on him, blow by him from the perimeter or perhaps get the ball in the shooting pocket before that guy closes out if he’s a little slower and get the 3s off. There’s no question that Tanner has that inside-outside game.”
From a team standpoint, the key could be defense. Rochester allowed 60 or more points eight times last season and went 2-6 in those games. They allowed 56 points per game.
“It’s huge,” Malchow said. “All my teams have always been defensive-minded and defensive-oriented. I mean, we’ve always tried to turn some of our offense from our defense. And last season, it’s the same thing, same issue. … It’s a process, and it’s the ability to have the physicality and the experience and the knowledge and how to play the way we want to play.
“Last season, there were times as a coaching staff where we were just trying to figure out how we were going to beat certain teams and get some wins that kind of strayed from our philosophy. Like the fullcourt pressure, 84-feet thing that we did and surprised Wabash and Manchester. But that’s a tough thing to sit in and do all the time. … We want to get back to who we have been – our halfcourt man-to-man, our halfcourt zone defense and really pressuring and putting people and making them uncomfortable as an opponent and then mixing in, as we always have, a fullcourt press and a halfcourt trap.”
Malchow said the program was at a “start over point” last year. He said he thought the program went to the “basement” before it could even get to the first floor.
“And the kids did a good job last year,” Malchow said. “I thought nine wins with Paul coming in last year was probably a fair number. I don’t think we necessarily shocked people with nine (wins), but I sure don’t think the way things went health-wise was much better than nine. I think they got what they were.
“So I think this year, I’m really seeing a lot of things we’re enjoying. I think we’re going to be a better team this year.”
Tony Stesiak, who had been a varsity assistant, is now the girls coach at Winamac. Joe McCarter, who had been the “C” team coach, is back on a volunteer basis.
Rex Reinholt, who was the head coach from 2012-17, is back as varsity assistant, a role he held in the program from 2007-11.
Luke Smith, a 2006 Rochester grad who has been part of Malchow’s staff since 2017, takes over Stesiak’s role in focusing on the offense.
Sean Kelly returns as JV coach.
Plymouth is new to the schedule. Tri-Central and Heritage are off.
Plymouth travels to Rochester on Feb. 7. It will be their first meeting since December 2015.
Rochester has scheduled 20 games, giving them room to add up to two more games if they want.
Rochester will host Class 2A, Sectional 36 from Feb. 28-March 4. This is the first time the Malchow-coached Zebras have hosted a boys sectional, though his girls teams hosted a sectional four times in the 1990s.
Nov. 23 – vs. Culver, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 2 – at Winamac, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 9 – vs. North Judson, 8 p.m.
Dec. 10 – at Logansport, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 16 – vs. North Miami, 7:45 p.m.
Dec. 30 – at Wawasee tournament
Jan. 6 – at Whitko, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 7 – at Oregon-Davis, 7 p.m.
Jan. 13 – vs. Tippecanoe Valley, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 17 – at Caston, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 20 – at Manchester, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 27 – at Northfield, 7:45 p.m.
Jan. 28 – vs. North White, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 2 – vs. Southwood, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 7 – vs. Plymouth, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 10 – at Wabash, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 14 – vs. Triton, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 17 – vs. Peru, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 24 – at Maconaquah, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 28-March 4 – Class 2A, Sectional 36 at Rochester
Class 2A, Sectional 36
Rochester, Lewis Cass, North Miami, Pioneer, Wabash, Winamac
Rochester boys basketball team