Husky hoops team forms for summer, preview of next year

Summer season means baseball and softball, and it means the start of a new year in the high school basketball program.

Following on the heals of their third straight championship, the Huskies are bringing back what will be four senior and one junior varsity players and losing five to graduation for a summer league.

Husky basketball vets, combining size and speed, include Nik Walker, Kevin Furry, Aaron Hegge, Sam Posthuma and Brian Seward, the junior. Joining them will be incoming juniors Brady Simpkins, Carey Hintze, Kylan Walker and Tim Matuszak and incoming sophomores Donny Cliver, Ricky Howe, Anthony Mink, Mike Severns and Tyler Emmert.

Graduating are Wes Smith, Josh Bondesen, Jake Gaskey, Casey Aiello and Matt Matuszak.

“We kind of have a wide open situation right now,” Coach Mark Risen said. With only five returning lettermen, the program is filling a number of spots, but competition will be stiff.

“I’d like to have at least four men ready for next season if not five or six more,” Coach Risen said. The team needs to develop its depth at this point. Posthuma and Seward swung junior varsity last year. Only three have significant varsity experience.

The upcoming sophomore class is talented, having gone 20-2 last season as freshmen with two of its members playing junior varsity ball.

Coach Risen is planning to play a lot of kids and have a look at a variety of lineups, at the same time developing players so they can master fundamentals next season.

Walker and Severns are the top two underclassmen in the league this year. They received the highest standings in all-league voting after seniors this year.

“I think you’ve got quite a duo there,” Coach Risen said. “Aaron just improves daily.”

At 6’7” Hegge had a big role last year, Coach Risen said, and he’s looking forward to moving him to a key role and opening options up for the team.

He’s a “very prototypical big kid,” Coach Risen said. Right now, he’s concentrating on his footwork and fundamentals. “Before you know it, this guy is just unstoppable eight feet and in, (and) Sam is a prolific scorer.

“Brian makes everyone else better. He distributes the ball really well.”

Seward is one of the best passers in the program, Coach Risen said.

“We will be difficult to defend,” Coach Risen said. “Because all five of these guys can put the ball in the basket.”

The team will stretch defenses out as they come out on four guard positions but have to keep in mind the Huskies’ post player.

Potential incoming varsity players will add their own lift to the program.

Kylan Walker is another “big kid” who is getting better, Coach Risen said. Simpkins is another big kid that Coach Risen expects to fill an important role.

Sophomores are average height, Coach Risen said, but like the team of 1999, they’re athletic.

The team’s spectrum of players “works out pretty good,” Coach Risen said. “The holes we need filled are spots the younger guys are good at.”

Those gaps are the wings, Coach Risen said. The team is post heavy among the older players.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys working their tails off,” Coach Risen said. “I’m absolutely impressed beyond words at how hard these kids are working on their skills. I think we’re going to do fine. I never try to come off as overconfident, but we’ve got a good nucleus again. One of the things we’ve done well is developing kids in roles.”

If those roles can be honed this summer, Coach Risen thinks his team will be in the thick of things again next year. The team will play a little different. It was a more wide open this year, with game averages of 51 points. There will still be some of that with Nik Walker, Furry and Seward, “but I also don’t want to underestimate the importance of Aaron inside in the half court.”

Coach Risen thinks the team will press well and is planning to open up the court on defense. He will find out this summer.

“This is the time to experiment if you’re going to,” Coach Risen said. “I’ve also wrinkled the half-court game around the personnel we have,” leaving just one post instead of two and four wings instead of three.

Coach Risen is happy with the last three years, the last one ending in a three-way tie for champion.

“I count my blessings daily for what we’ve accomplished,” Coach Risen said. “That we’ve stayed healthy, that I’ve had these kids to coach.”

Many pieces go into making a championship team, but he believes the Huskies could be in the hunt again, Coach Risen said. Central returns a number of varsity players. Stayton is reloading. Cascade will improve next year, and North Marion will find a way to be back in the thick of the Capital Conference again.

“We’ll have as good of talent as anyone else,” Coach Risen said, but there’s a lot more to a championship than talent. The team will need to mature some, but “that’s what makes it fun.

“I’m just as excited going into this, into my fifth year, now as I was the day I got here. I’m that way because of the kids we have, and the job they’ve done. They continue to impress me every day.”

The day Coach Risen interviewed, Athletic Director Larry Johnson showed him the gym. Inside that gym, players like Dan Flores, Justin Forum and Travis Furry were playing ball.

“I remember that image in my head,” Coach Risen said. “And I said I interviewed in the right place.”

Driving around town, there’s a couple dozen kids enthusiastic and playing ball at different times. That passion helps keep Coach Risen delighted with his players.

“If I’ve helped give them that passion, that’s the greatest gift ever,” Coach Risen said.