MISHAWAKA — Rarely has a team lost two Division I players and still been noteworthy for the players it has back.
Such, though, is the situation for the Penn Kingsmen, who return both quality — Notre Dame-bound senior forward Austin Torres is yet another DI recruit — and quantity, that coming in the form of an area-leading nine players who scored points last season. The majority of those nine are still underclassmen, too.
Gone, meanwhile, from a 10-13 club are Jeff Laidig, now playing at Belmont University, and Leo Svete, a Western Michigan recruit who at one time was expected back, but who has now opted to sit out the season altogether while rehabbing a summer knee injury.
That development makes coach Al Rhodes’ exploratory approach to last season seem even more fortuitous now.
“After we found out that Jeff wasn’t coming back for a long stretch last year,” Rhodes says of an injury that cost Laidig 11 games, “we did go with a lot of younger players and tried to build some bridges. I’ve never used more than one freshman, and last year we used four. We do have nine lettermen back, but some of them didn’t play a whole lot, so we’re still building this team.”
The Kingsmen become the final Indiana area club to open its season when they host Fort Wayne North at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, following a 4 p.m. JV contest. Rhodes, a 2010 Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, will be shooting for his 500th career victory.
Kingsmen coach Al Rhodes’ take ...
Austin Torres obviously had a great summer given how his college stock soared. How has his game grown?
“First of all, he’s healthy. Austin played most of last year with a back problem. He’s worked very hard to improve his skills as a basketball player. He’s always been a good defender and good rebounder. He’s shooting better and we expect him to have a great senior year.”
Who are the others who will start or play major minutes?
“Jordan Geist will probably start at point guard for us. He is improved in terms of ball-handling, dribbling, passing. He and Nate Miller, both sophomores, will be our two point guards. Mikey Szrom will start in the post. On the wings we’ll have (Conner) Sowders, Billy Doslak, Cory Kreiger, Ryan Lutz, Christian Wittendorf. We expect to be very deep, and those who play better will play more.”
What are the changes that may be in store?
“I think we’ll probably press more than any of my Penn teams. I think defensive pressure on the ball will be better than we’ve had. We want to play an aggressive style of man-for-man defense. I think we can exhibit more patience on offense, but at times we will be transitional because of that defense we’re playing.”
Characterize this blend of players and what type of season you may have.
“For us, we’ve got players ahead of their age experience-wise. I think the key to our season will be if we can play consistently well. If they play like players with experience, we’ll do well. If the sophomores play like typical sophomores, well, we might struggle. It’s been an extremely fun group to work with. Our intrasquads and preseason scrimmage went well.”
By the numbers
Kingsmen coach Al Rhodes’ career victories. He’s seventh among active boys coaches, and among the top 15 coaches in wins, he’s also seventh in victory percentage at .679.
Penn players back who scored last season. Next-best in the area is seven returning players who scored.
No. Player Pos. Ht. Yr.
10 Nate Miller PG 5-8 So.
12 Jordan Geist PG 5-11 So.
15 Cory Kreiger W 6-1 Jr.
21 Matt Chaffee PG 5-11 Jr.
22 Billy Doslak W 5-11 So.
23 Conner Sowders W 6-1 Sr.
25 Ryan Lutz W 6-2 So.
31 Christian Wittendorf W 6-3 Jr.
33 Taylor Brooks P 6-4 Jr.
35 Austin Torres W 6-7 Sr.
43 Isaiah Cook P 6-3 Jr.
45 Mikey Szrom P 6-5 Sr.
53 Andrew Kimm P 6-7 Jr.
Coach: Al Rhodes (499-236 in 31 seasons overall; 45-44 in 4 seasons at Penn; 10-12 in 1 season at Fort Wayne Northrop; 39-47 in 4 seasons at Logansport; 405-133 in 22 seasons at Warsaw).
Assistants: Steve Lemme, Joe Sierzputowski, Pat Danko, Jim Modlin, Zach Hill.
1 — Fort Wayne North (4 p.m. JV start). 7 — at Concord. 8 — at Fort Wayne South (4:30 p.m. JV start). 14 — at SB Clay (c). 15 — Munster. 20 — at Plymouth. 21 — at SB St. Joseph (c). 28 — vs. Northridge at Goshen in NIC/NLC Shootout. 29 — vs. Goshen at SB St. Joseph in NIC/NLC Shootout.
5 — at Memorial (North Side Gym). 11 — SB Washington (c). 15 — Northridge. 18 — SB Riley (c). 25 — at Central (c) (North Side Gym).
1 — at SB Adams (c). 2 — Andrean. 7 — Mishawaka (c). 15 — Marian (c). 19 — Niles (Mich.). 22 — at Glenn.
(c) — Denotes Northern Indiana Conference game.
Points: Austin Torres 10.1, Conner Sowders 3.6, Nate Miller 3.0, Christian Wittendorf 2.7.
Rebounds: Torres 7.2*, Szrom 2.6.
Assists: Sowders 2.0, Miller 1.5.
Steals: Miller 1.0, Torres 0.9.
* — Denotes also led last season’s team overall.