Andes basketball preview: Bernhardt returns to coach boys with new outlook on the game

By Julia Green
For the Andes boys’ varsity basketball team, it’s a little less “out with the old, in with the new” and more “in with the old with a new point of view.”
Head Coach John Bernhardt is returning to the reins after a hiatus from the coaching ranks while last year’s coach, Adam VanValkenburg, works on completing work on his master’s degree.
“No one else expressed an interest, so I said, ‘What the heck,’” Bernhardt said. “I love basketball, love coaching basketball – it’s a lot of fun, but I must admit it’s a little more taxing on the body as I get older.”
The Mountaineers welcome back three starters from last year’s squad, as well as a transfer student who played varsity basketball at Margaretville last season. Two seniors, Ethan Berghammer and Justin Weaver, will be leading the charge.
“Ethan has had a real good preseason, he’s working very hard and I’m very pleased with his efforts,” Bernhardt said. “He has some good offensive potential, a nice outside shot, he drives pretty well to the basket, and I think game in and game out he has the potential to hit double digits.
“Justin got off to a bit of a slow start, as he had a soccer injury that slowed him down a bit, but hopefully as the season progresses, he’ll take on a bigger role. He has potential around the basket, and we’re working on trying to get him to slow down and see the court more and take a little more time in the decision-making process.”
Six juniors comprise a strong core of the Mountaineers’ roster, including last year’s starting point guard Cody Ruff, Russell Koronowski, Nathan Tuch, Corey Barrett, James Litaker and Josh Bonifacic, who transferred from Margaretville Central School. Sophomores Eric Reed and Peter Fabrykiewicz and freshmen Eddie Mackay, Sage Beemer and Mike Maxim round out the roster.
Bernhardt said the Mountaineers will be looking to Bonifacic for rebounding and a good mid-range jump shot, Barrett for explosive speed and strong drives to the basket, and Fabrykiewicz for defensive anticipation. He added that Tuch, Litaker, Beemer and Maxim are working on their inside games around the low blocks while Koronowski, Reed and Mackay are working on their games at the guard position.
And, beyond position-specific focus, the Mountaineers are working on finding the basket.
“We’re working really hard on our outside shooting,” Bernhardt said. “I think that in the past it’s been a fault in my coaching – I don’t think we’ve spent enough time with that. This year we’re trying to spend more time on it and thinking about our game shots, really thinking about what the game shots should be.”
He added that rebounding could be a possible strength of his squad due to their height, but that physicality is something they will have to work on.
“We’re a younger team, and in terms of experience we’re not as physical,” he said. “But I think that will come as we get banged around a little bit. We’re going to have to figure out how to stay alive when that happens.
“We’re getting the guys to think about the game, getting them to share the ball, think about a teammate before they think about themselves,” he added. “Making a play for a teammate before you make a play for yourself: if you can get five guys to do that, you’ve got a pretty nice team.”
Bernhardt said his style is changing as he nears the end of his career, deviating from what he called “predominantly defensive.”
“In the years I’ve coached in Delaware County I’ve played almost entirely man-to-man, and I have a kind of strong ethos that man-to-man defense is real defense,” he said. “If you go to the sectional finals, three of the four teams who get to that level are playing man-to-man most of the time. We’re playing zone this year, and that will be kind of a stunning change for us. I think we have the potential to push the ball up the court a little bit, but we have to learn poise. I’d like us to become a controlled fast-break team.”
Bernhardt added that his offensive style has been one of control, focused on slowing down once the ball reaches midcourt.
“I’m trying to change that up,” he said. “Trying to shake away some of my dinosaur instincts, perhaps enter the modern age of basketball.
“I’ve been pretty old-fashioned in some of my approach to basketball. I’ve never been a huge fan of the dribble, but modern kids seem to be in love with the dribble, so if you can figure out ways to incorporate it into your play, you might be able to motivate them to stay with it.
“But we’re trying some new things. In the 20-something year, we’re trying some new things.”
The Andes boys’ varsity basketball team will travel to Downsville on Dec. 9. The Mountaineers’ next home game is Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m., against Gilboa.