Tigers use summer games to bolster experience.
The last couple of seasons St. James High School boys’ basketball head coach Ben Smith has had the luxury of relying on an experienced core group of varsity players.
That’s not the case this school year.
In fact, the coach needed every last minute of the squad’s summer shootout games to teach and look at various combinations on the floor.
Graduation hit the Tigers hard. St. James lost eight seniors from last season’s squad, which finished with a 19-8 overall mark.
Only three players - all seniors - return with extended varsity experience...and they are all guard types - 6-0 all-district performer Logan Courtois, 5-9 Jake Money and 6-1 Elye Rogers.
Courtois is the top scorer back for the Tigers, averaging a team-high 14.9 points per game last season - fifth among Four Rivers Conference players.
"We just have to make sure we are doing the little things right," Smith said. "We’ve got to scale back a little bit. The biggest thing is adjusting to the speed of the game. This summer we kept it pretty basic."
Over the summer the Tigers took, three teams to both the William Woods and Capital City Shootouts. And at the most recent University of Central Missouri Camp, St. James sent a total of 24 players divided into two squads.
"We had some times I thought we looked better than expected, especially at the Capital City Shootout," Smith said. "At the UCM Camp we didn’t win a lot of games, but we played big schools and were very competitive."
Rogers did not compete in the summer schedule, as he was still recovering from shoulder surgery.
Smith did have one player - senior Noah Bartle - literally grow into an inside presence.
Bartle, who saw limited time on the varsity last season, has grown a couple of inches and according to Smith is now nearly 6-7.
Smith hopes that sometime into this coming season the Tigers are back to playing the type of tight, trapping defense that has been the team’s trademark in recent years.
"We’ll try to pressure," Smith said. "We’re not going to be able to just say, ‘This is us...good luck.’ We’ve got to be a little more versatile. We won’t be able to give the same look over and over.
"We’ve done a good job battling for loose balls, and down the line I think we can pressure the ball."