Hillsboro High School boys basketball coach Darrel Knoll asks his players to improve every practice and every game.
If his team competes hard, makes an attempt to comprehend the game, does its school work, and stays out of trouble in the community, he will be happy.
“The thing I like is I know they’re going to compete hard,” Knoll said of his 2011-12 basketball team. “That’s really all I can ask. In terms of wins and losses, they’ll take care of themselves.”
Last year, the Trojans were vertically challenged, and Knoll said that should still be a weakness. Senior Brandon Rooker is 6-feet, 1 inch tall and is slated to be the starting center for the team. Hillsboro also struggled with shooting last year, hitting shots from the floor in the high 20 percent. Shot making and selection was a point emphasis for the team during the summer.
However, Hillsboro will look to overcome those foibles with athleticism and effort. That effort starts with the four returning seniors for the team.
While undersized from a height perspective, Rooker will look to muscle opposing post players out of the lane using the strength and physicality that made him a Central Kansas League first-teamer on the defense and offensive line in football.
“He understands how to use his body in the paint,” Knoll said. “He plays bigger than he is.”
Jesse Allen is a returning starter for Hillsboro who could play either wing position. Knoll praised Allen’s passing and decision making abilities on the floor. The senior forward will be a factor in the Trojans’ full-court pressure defense and fast breaks.
“He understands the game really well,” Knoll said.
Knoll will look to Luke Moore and Devin Dick to provide leadership. The role will be different for Moore. As quarterback and linebacker, Moore was a 48-minute player in the fall and a consummate leader for the football team. In basketball, as a 5-foot-8 shooting guard, his minutes are not guaranteed.
“Last year, he played quite a bit in some games and not as much in others,” Knoll said.
Knoll is hoping Moore will set the tone for the team in practice with hard work and knowing when to be serious.
Dick is another player possibly facing hard luck with only five starting spots available. Knoll praised the wing player’s willingness to sacrifice his body, play hard, and play physical.
“He’s not going to shortchange effort,” Knoll said.
The Trojans have talented players in lower classes.
“A lot of young players played a lot last year,” Knoll said.
Junior Josh Wiebe played post for the Trojans last year. With his 6-foot-2 but thinner body, Wiebe should be a compliment to Rooker on the block.
Fellow junior Shaq Thiessen was impressive in summer league games this offseason, Knoll said. The wing player possesses unrivaled athleticism for the Trojans.
Then there is a group of sophomores led by returning point guard Brett Weinbrenner. Knoll described Weinbrenner, Allen, and Christian Ratzlaff as players who do not mind spending countless hours perfecting their games in the gym.
Weinbrenner will have a tough assignment for the Trojans. Along with running Hillsboro’s attack, the sophomore guard will also have to look for opportunistic moments for his own scoring.
“He’s a smart player,” Knoll said. “He has the ability to put the ball in the basket but he was more selective on his shots.”
At 6 feet, Ratzlaff returns with good size for a Trojan wing player. His athleticism and skills with the ball should net the sophomore wing significant minutes.
Then there is guard Evan Ollenburger, who Knoll said plays basketball like he does as a Trojan receiver and defensive back — without regard for personal injury. Ollenburger’s penchant for diving for loose balls and taking charges should make the sophomore standout on an already unselfish squad.
“He plays bigger than he is,” Knoll said of the 133-pound Ollenburger. “He’s going to give you everything he’s got.”
With a tough Central Kansas League schedule, Knoll believes the Trojans will be competitive in every game. He said he has the players to run the fast-paced style he prefers and that may net the Trojans more wins than last year when Hillsboro finished 11-8.
“One thing I really want the guys to gain is a sense of being out for a team; there’s more to being a part of a team than playing,” Knoll said. “If we can say we did as much as we could to get what we got, when we finish the year, no matter the outcome, the guys should be proud.”
Hillsboro’s first game is Tuesday against Lyons in Moundridge.