Courier Staff Writer
During the first couple of weeks of practice, Ottumwa boys basketball coach Chris Gravett said one characteristic has stuck out about his team — they work hard; really hard.
Granted, the Bulldogs aren’t going to be lighting up any scoreboard. Nor are they going to wear teams down with a deep bench. But, if they can bring the same high level of intensity and effort to games that they have brought to practice thus far, Gravett thinks they will be OK.
“They are hungry, they are hard-working and that’s all I can ask for so far,” the coach said. “We’re going to take some licks, but I know our guys will fight until the end.”
Gravett’s squad is full of what he calls “dirty players.” The coach, however, doesn’t mean dirty in the conventional sense — the Bulldogs roster is not flush with cheap shot artists. The coach uses the term “dirty player” in a positive context: he said it means someone who is willing to selflessly share the basketball, get on floor and go after loose balls.
“We’ve got guys at practice that push each other,” the coach said. “Guys are getting in good shape and they are having fun together.”
Gravett’s scrappy squad will start its season Friday against Southeast Polk at Pleasant Hill, where it will try to avenge a 62-53 loss it suffered to the Rams last season at Evans Middle School.
Southeast Polk, who finished 12-11 last season, crushed Des Moines East 85-50 in its season opener. Junior Nick Jeffries spearheaded the Rams offensively, finishing with a team-high 18 points, including three 3-pointers. He also dished out a team-high six assists.
In addition, junior Tucker Kamman finished with 15 points and Luke Hassman posted a double-double, finishing with 12 points and 11 boards. Kamman shined on the defensive end as well, leading his team in steals (4) and blocks (2).
While Kamman and Hassman only combined for five points against Ottumwa last season, Jeffries scored 23 points. He was only 6-15 from the field, but he made eight of his 11 free throws.
One thing is for sure, Gravett said, the Rams will hit their share of 3-pointers during the contest.
“They are going to shoot 30 or 35 of them,” he said. “So they even on a bad night they will make at least 10.”
The coach said Southeast Polk runs a dribble-drive offense, that features Rams players driving to the hole and trying to score, but if someone cuts them off they are to find a teammate open behind the 3-point line. Gravett, however, said Southeast Polk’s offense is geared more towards getting open 3-point shots than getting buckets inside.
The coach said if the boys are able to guard well against the 3-pointer, limit Southeast Polk’s offensive spurts and rebound well defensively, they will have a chance to leave Pleasant Hill with a victory.
The Bulldog roster will need to find new sources to get the breadth of their points from this year because of the departures of last season’s three leading scorers: Faith Pope, Erik Thorgaard and Ben Kramer. Pope transferred to defending state champion Mount Pleasant (3A) and Thorgaard and Kramer both graduated.
Pope, a 6-foot-6 All-CIML Metro Conference first team selection (he also was third team all-state), averaged a league-leading 16.6 points. In addition, he ranked second in the Metro in blocks with 64 on the year and fourth in rebounds with nine a game. Kramer ranked second on the team in scoring with 14 points a game and first in assists with 3.5 per contest. Thorgaard averaged about 11 points a game.
More than one player will have to shoulder the scoring burden this season.
“It’s going to have to be a team effort,” Gravett said.
Though scoring must come from an array of sources, Gravett said he expects Carter Burns to be one of his squad’s most prolific scorers.
“He’s a flat-out dynamite player,” Gravett said.
Burns, a 6-6 sophomore forward, averaged five points a game and received honorable mention status last season. Although only a sophomore, Burns has more basketball experience than most boys his age because of the traveling teams he plays on. Senior Austin Walker is another guy who gave Ottumwa some productive minutes last season. He averaged about four points a game and also received honorable mention status last season. Chris Peden, a 6-foot-3 junior, will further bolster Ottumwa’s stature in the size department.
Seniors Charlie Altifillisch and Kyle Keck, two guys who didn’t see much playing time last year, will play a more prominent role on this season’s squad. Gravett praised Keck and Altfillisch for their team-first mindsets.
“Both of them are extremely unselfish,” the coach said.” “They are willing to screen and do whatever they can to win.”
Ottumwa is not lacking in young talent: the team includes three sophomores and a freshman. Offensively, the coach said the Bulldogs will have long possessions where they will look to score points off their halfcourt offense. This undergirds Gravett’s intention to make opposing teams work on defense by forcing them to constantly fight through screens.
Offense, however, will probably not be Ottumwa’s main strength this season.
“We’re going to hang our hat on defense,” the coach said.