MCS boys look for rebound season

By John Bernhardt
“Little things make big things happen.”
Legendary UCLA college basketball coach John Wooden could have been talking about this winter’s Margaretville boys’ basketball team when he made this famous statement several decades ago. Margaretville moves into the upcoming hardwood season with a roster only eight strong. Even so, Coach Jeremey Marks is expecting big things from the Blue Devils.

Marks returns to the varsity sidelines for Margaretville after a three-year absence. The Margaretville mentor moved from the varsity level to coach the junior varsity team for two years then stepped away from the game for a season, but is eager and excited about returning to guide the Blue Devils’ fortunes this winter.

General improvement
“We’re utilizing every minute to improve our play,” Marks emphasized. “If we can kick up our practice intensity and continue our commitment to defense we should be competitive in the league.”

To make that happen Marks needs strong leadership from six-feet, three-inch senior center Mitch Hull. Hull, a three-year starter and second team Delaware League All-Star last season, is a consistent double/double scoring and rebounding presence.

“Mitch should be one of the strongest inside players in the league, a guy the other teams will key on all the time,” Marks explained. “Mitch has added a nice outside shot that should help stretch defenses. We are depending on continued practice improvement and leadership from Mitch,” said Hull’s coach.

In Sean Gauntt, Margaretville has a smart, hardworking six-foot forward who loves to rebound. Marks praised Gauntt for understanding and accepting his workman-like role.
“Sean is unselfish offensively and is always looking to feed open teammates the ball or setting screens to free people up.” noted Marks. “He’s relentless off the glass.

Tall order
Ryan Sanford is the final senior. Long and tall at six-feet, two-inches, Sanford should bolster Margaretville’s defense, especially at the top of its 3-2 zone. And, Marks is looking for his strong forward to have an impact around the hoop. “The key to Ryan’s game will be how well he rips the ball off the backboards and finishes,” Marks noted. “I’m expecting Ryan to be strong off the offensive glass.”

A pair of juniors moved up from the junior varsity to provide quality depth to the roster. Dylan Shaffer is much more confident on both sides of the floor and can play guard or forward. A strong rebounder, Shaffer is in motion with the ball on the way to the basket and establishes good position for put-backs.

Every successful basketball team needs a defensive specialist, and the Blue Devils may have found theirs in James Warner. Marks believes Warner has the goods to be a shutdown defender. The junior defensive ace is quick, aggressive, reads plays well, and recovers defensively as well as anyone on the team.

“James loves to play defense and should be a big asset on our presses and matching up with some of the stronger offensive scorers we play,” said Marks.

A three-guard backcourt gives Marks added flexibility this season. The three guards have been schooled to play both on and off the ball, a valued asset for any high school basketball team. Junior Kyle Short was the point guard on last year’s team and will see time at that position as well as at the two-guard slot. Short has an accurate outside shot and has proven to be a “gamer” in closing seconds with the game on the line. Fast and aggressive, Short penetrates to the basket well.

In the backcourt
Sophomore Matt VanValkenburg was the team’s shooting guard and back-up point guard as a freshman. With added inches on his frame, VanValkenburg can add small forward to the positions he’ll play this winter. Smart and versatile, VanValkenburg is sometimes a second coach on the floor. Added strength to his lower half has improved his outside shooting percentage, and VanValkenburg can score going in either direction off the dribble. “Matt is versatile and unselfish and expends great effort on both ends of the court,” said Marks.

Cooper Reither was assigned to handle point guard responsibilities on the junior varsity last season in anticipation of shouldering the same responsibilities this winter at the varsity level. The sophomore guard handled his assignment well. A natural floor general, the young point guard strives to make his teammates better offensively, has a good outside shot, is tough on defense, and can recognize and distribute the ball to a teammate with a hot hand.

Marks believes this winter’s team should be able to rebound and get out and run.

“It’s funny, we have only eight guys, but I’m expecting us to wear teams down,” the Margaretville coach chuckled. “We need to recognize our strengths and play to them. Taking care of the ball is critical.”

Marks is upbeat when he evaluates his roster. “On paper we’re a challenger this year,” he adds. “The next step is to get out on the floor and prove it.”