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by Mark Cheffey
This year’s Palmyra Panther basketball team has a new person at the helm, and he’s excited about the opportunity to be a part of Palmyra’s strong hoops tradition.
Brian Rea comes to Palmyra from Peyson-Seymour, Ill., where, over 12 seasons, he guided the team to 256 wins, nine conference championships, four regional titles and an elite-eight appearance.
Part of his motivation to move to Palmyra, he said, is that the program he left is now “maintaining a high level of success” and that he now gets to start the success building process again.
“The beauty about here is there is a tradition to draw on,” Rea said.
Not only has Rea seen the Palmyra basketball tradition as an opposing coach two times, but he also got to hear all about it from someone who helped build the tradition, Mike Foster, the son of Palmyra’s legendary coach Don Foster, and a Panther standout, who was an assistant coach at Quincy University when Rea played for the Hawks.
Rea remembers coming to Palmyra and having some practices in the PHS gym back in 1997, where he saw the banners hanging from the ceiling.
Palmyra boys basketball has not been able to hang any state championship banners since before the turn of the century, and the playoff opportunities have been spotty since them, but Rea is excited about the opportunity to bring that excitement back to a community that craves it.
“I think it’s an excitement and it’s also family. That’s what I’m trying to build here,” Rea said, noting that caring for the players and building the team as a family can make the difference.
“If they know their family loves them, I think you can get so much more out of people,” Rea said. “I don’t know what they’re used to, but I told them, ‘I love you guys and it’s been fun.’ I cherish my time I get to spend with them.”
That started in earnest this past summer as the team participated in a couple of shoot-outs, a camp at QU and in a league out of Hannibal.
“It was not all the things I wanted to do, but we got a good amount of games in, and we got to work on some things,” said Rea, who says his overall coaching philosophy is about teaching the game and instilling an enjoyment of playing it.
Now with the pre-season practice, the players are getting used to a new system under Rea, who goes with more of a European style of basketball where specific positions on the court are blurred.
“I’m not an inside, outside coach,” Rea said. “I teach all kids all skills, because all kids have to be able to pass, dribble, shoot and defend.
“We’ve got some smaller guys who are really good at the post. And, we’ve got some bigger guys who can go outside and shoot. We’re trying to teach kids position-less basketball and play the game instead of how to run plays.”
Defense is also paramount under Rea who said “we’re going to get after it,” when the ball is in the other team’s possession.
“You can have an off night shooting and things are not going to go your way, but if you have a good night defensively, you always give yourself a chance to win,” Rea said.
“We’re going to hang our hat on defense, especially early on.”
Rea said he likes to stack the deck on his players to make practices more difficult than an actual game, sometimes by having four players defend against six, seven or even eight offensive players.
“Overstimulating them in practice to play at a high level, means the game will be the fun time for them,” Rea said.
Naming a starting five at this point would be impossible, Rea said, and that this year’s team makeup is much like the first one he had at Payson-Seymour where all of his 15 players saw action.
“I wanted to get kids playing time, because they deserved it,” he said of all their hard work in practice.
“And, we were able to keep people fresh and wear the other team down,” Rea said.
The varsity squad is made up of seniors, Jimmy Scott, Laydin Lochman, Mason Roberts, Landyn Smith, Brayden Shannon, Adam Goodwin and Alex Loman, junior, Ethan Redd, Tyler Banta and Ryan McKeown, and sophomores, Bear Bock and Carson Hicks.
On the junior varsity roster are sophomores, Aaron Ritchey, Landon Gottman, Jacob Barnes, Kaleb Lane, Ethan Tallman, Rayce Ragar and Jeremiah Edwards, and freshmen Drew Copenhaver, Marty Smyser, Lance West, Carson Hicks and Tate Hammond.
Rea said he has been able to size up the competition, especially in the Clarence Cannon Conference, where Monroe City has maintained a dynasty in recent years.
He also noted Highland looks to be a force with South Shelby returning all of its players to be competitive this season and Centralia showing some size and athleticism.
He’s also told his players to be aware that all of their opponents will be gunning for them due to Palmyra’s reputation in athletics in general.
“It doesn’t matter if you are up or down, people want to beat Palmyra. That makes their season,” Rea said.
He’s looking forward to going up against new teams in new places and competing in the three tournaments but especially the Tony Lenzini Tournament Jan. 17-22.
“It’s nice to be able to play a tournament on your home floor. I’ve never had that,” Rea said.
New opponents this year are Elsberry, the team’s season opener on the road Nov. 23, and North Point, a new school in Wentzville.
Rea is assisted this year by coaches Mark Lickfeld, Timothy Southers and Steven Jones, who will guide the JV squad.
11/23 at Elsberry
11/30 Mark Twain
12/6-11 M.C. Tournament
12/14 at QND
12/17 at Unity (Ill.)
1/3-8 Highland Tourn.
1/11 at North Port
1/14 at Centralia 6 p.m.
1/17-22 Lenzini Tourn.
1/25 at Brookfield
2/1 at Clark County
2/4 South Shelby
2/8 at Monroe City
2/10 Bowling Green
2/15 at Hannibal 6 p.m.
2/18 Highland 6 p.m.