Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cyclone boys field new team

By Greg Mast/Herald Sports Editor | 12/2/2013

Normally there is a much different outlook when a team loses nearly all of its players and coach from the previous season.

Despite graduating nine of its 11 players and having coach Jon McKowen leave for Iowa, the Ottawa High School boys basketball program expects to be successful.

Normally there is a much different outlook when a team loses nearly all of its players and coach from the previous season.

Despite graduating nine of its 11 players and having coach Jon McKowen leave for Iowa, the Ottawa High School boys basketball program expects to be successful.

One of those reasons is the juniors have played together since their elementary years.

“We were very fortunate to have a large number of sophomores last year that are now juniors that have played together,” first-year Ottawa coach Cliff McCullough, who coached the girls team for the past 16 seasons. “The JV program makes all the difference in the world. That is how you build a program.”

McCullough fields a team with 10 juniors.

“One thing we are not going to have to worry about is chemistry,” McCullough said. “It has already been established long ago. A lot of times you spend a fourth of the season trying to build chemistry. We don’t have to worry about that. We can get into X’s and O’s of things.”

Everybody will be in different roles. McCullough will not be fan, but the coach. Tyler Smith and Quentin Blaue are no longer reserve players giving rest to the starters. The other players will be playing varsity, instead of junior varsity.

“The hardest thing for them will be the varsity level, the speed and the physicality of the next level,” McCullough said. “They have been playing together for a long time. It is all about team. They are in it for the same reason.”

He said Smith and Blaue have been good influences on him and their teammates.

“We are looking for those two guys to be the leaders of this team,” McCullough said. “They have done a masterful job. They will be a huge reason why the transition was smooth as it was.

“They have embraced that role.”

McCullough got a quick look at his players during the summer.

“I got a chance to coach these kids in a couple of tournaments this summer,” he said. “As much as I have been around these kids and they knew who I was, it is a different role when you are a basketball coach. Anytime you can get that out of the way, it will be a benefit. They get an idea of how you will coach, your expectations.”

The Cyclones will be a totally different team than the undefeated 4A state championship team. There is no Semi Ojeleye to rely on for scoring.

“We are not the defending state championship team,” McCullough said. “The expectations remain the same. We are not expected to go 25-0. We are expected to compete for a league title. We are expected to win a sub-state and expected to get back to Salina. They have not changed in 17 years that I have been in Ottawa on the boys or girls side. Expectations are very high in Ottawa.

“It is good to be the targeted team. That is the ultimate sign of respect. We have to defend Ottawa basketball.”

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