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by Mark Cheffey
The PHS boys basketball team lost several key players from last year, including five seniors and a transfer, but Coach Brian Rea has the core of last year’s team and an influx of new talent to provide optimism for success.
“We are trying to fit the pieces together and form an identity for ourselves right now,” Rea said of pre-season practice leading up to the home and season opener against Mark Twain Nov. 28.
“We’ve got a lot of really good kids. It’s just going to be competition in practice the rest of the way to see who gets what spots,” Rea said. “Playing time is totally up to the players, not the coaches. Hopefully we mesh and find an identity to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Much of that identity will revolve around five returning varsity players, who include all-conference and all-district selections, seniors, Bear Bock and Carson Hicks, along with seniors, Jacob Barnes, Jeremiah Edwards, Rayce Ragar and Landon Gottman.
They are joined by senior, Kaleb Lane; juniors, Tate Hammond, Cade Lehman and Jackson Hicks; and sophomores, Ryan McKinney and Luke Sheppard.
The rest of the roster includes: sophomores, Rafe Jones, Noah Williams and Grant White; and freshmen, Jaxon Gibson, Jared Ridout, Peirce White, Hudson Bock, Caleb Cason, Logan Kroeger and Bryant Horstmeier.
While meshing as a team, the players are also meshing with Rea’s system and philosophy.
“It takes time,” he said of the process. “They are contiually learning our system, and our style is a lot about understanding the game and basketball IQ and things like that.
“It’s not a ‘go from Point A to Point B. There’s a lot of thinking involved and a lot of anticipating,reacting and countering.
“They’re getting there. They’re not there yet, but they’re understanding the concepts better.”
Part of the team’s identity may come through its height advantage.
“We could throw out five guys no less than six feet,” Rea said. “That doesn’t seem huge, but in small-town basketball, if you have a line up on the floor that’s 6-5, 6-5, 6-3, 6-2 and 6-2, that’s getting pretty significant.
If we can utilize that, and they can utilize their size, mainly defensively, that’s what we need to shrink the court and take away a team’s strength.”
Rea said he also hopes to run the court more.
“We need to sprint the floor more and get some easy basket opportunities and utilize our guys who can handle the ball and pass,” Rea said. “Really good defense and sprinting the floor can lead to really easy offense. And the more easy offense we can get, the better.”
Palmyra lost some outside shooters from last year’s team, but Rea is hopeful, he has some new ones to step up.
“I hope it doesn’t take long to get rolling, but we definitely have kids who can make baskets from the perimeter,” Rea said. “We just have to have the confidence and the calmness to actually do it in game situations.”
Speaking of confidence and calmness, Rea hopes to see more of that during crunch time of the season.
Last year, the Panthers went 20-8, but lost to South Shelby, 39-32, in the district title game.
“If you hold a team to 39 points, you can win,” Rea said. “We just couldn’t score. It didn’t matter how big the basket was, we could not score. And that’s going to be key.
“With this team, we have the athletes to be just as good if not better defensively if we want to be, and we have the ability to score if we can have the confidence and focus to do so.”
Palmyra’s non-conference schedule includes a lot of familiar foes and a couple of new twists.
They play in the same array of tournaments and will face the familiar likes of Canton, Quincy Notre Dame (at The Pit) and Unity (Ill.), but filled two vacancies with a game at the John Wood Community College Rumble On the River, Dec. 18, and a cross-state trip to Kansas City for a game in the 12 Courts of Christmas showcase at the Hy-Vee Arena Dec. 29.
“That will be a difference environment,” Rea said of the game in Kansas City against an opponent that has yet to be announced.
“That’s going to be a big one for us just to see where we are at,” Rea said. “We’ll get our name out there in a different portion of the state, which is big.”
As for the Clarence Cannon Conference, Rea said it will be a tough game every night but that Centralia, South Shelby and Monroe City look particularly strong going into the season.
Making it even tougher for the Panthers is the fact they have some long road trips in the conference schedule including Clark County, Brookfield and Centralia.
“It’s always tough to play at Centralia,” Rea said, recalling a 30-point loss there his first year in Palmyra.
Rea said he expects his team to be in the CCC crown hunt.
“The conference championship is something we are going to strive for,” he said.
The Panthers have been assigned to Class 2, District 6 along with Clark County, Highland, Louisiana, Mark Twain, Monroe City and South Shelby.
A district tournament site has yet to be announced.
Rea is being assisted this year by Mark Lichfeld, Cody Ash, Curtis Stout and Nathan Meyers.
“So, we’ve got a lot of good help, and the kids like them,” Rea said.
11/13 Mexico Jamboree
11/28 Mark Twain
12/4-9 M.C. Tournament
12/12 at QND
12/15 at Unity (Ill.)
12/18 at JWCC
Rumble On the River
12/29 at KC
12 Courts of Christmas
1/1-6 Highland Tourn.
1/9 at Kirksville
1/12 at Centralia
1/15-20 Lenzini Tourn.
1/23 at Brookfield
1/30 at Clark County
2/2 South Shelby
2/6 at Monroe City
2/8 Bowling Green
2/13 at Hannibal
2/19-24 Districts TBA