Spartans welcome new coach, team
Jake Smith has a chance to make this year's team all his own.
The first-year coach is without all five starters from last year's Superior High School boys basketball team. The one returning starter who didn't graduate, Nick Mehlum, is out for the season with a knee injury.
"We're still looking to be as good as we can, and we're working hard," said Nate Sanders, a junior. "We've just got to get new people in there."
Superior lost six seniors to graduation, including four starters. Only three players return from last year's varsity team: seniors Carter Anderson, Matthew O'Shaughnessy and Jon Lindberg.
Juniors Jake Libal, Connor Gray and Sanders moved up to the varsity squad late in the season last year and will be expected to take on larger roles this year.
"I think the team chemistry is pretty good," Anderson said. "We're younger in comparison to previous years, but we've still all been playing together at the JV level."
New to the team this year is senior Will Stream and juniors John Curphy, McKenzie Schwarz, Jeb Kimmes and Devan Rivord.
Teams may look past the Spartans this year, Anderson said, but they'll be surprised by the athleticism of the newer players.
"I think Willie Stream coming back his senior year after not playing his junior year, that's a nice thing to see," Anderson said. "He's been working really hard in the offseason.
"And we have a lot of athletes from football like Nate Sanders and Jake Libal, who are just great overall athletes."
With Smith now at the helm of the boys basketball program, Anderson said practices have moved up a notch in intensity.
"Obviously he was a good college player, so he's implementing a lot of that into what we're doing," Anderson said.
Smith is the all-time leading scorer in UW-Superior men's basketball program, ending his college career in 2011 with 1,910 points.
When he began playing for the Yellowjackets in the 2007-08 season, UWS faced a situation similar to the one Superior faces this year. More than half the players on the roster were new to the team.
"We came in when I was in college and we were all new guys to the system," Smith said. "We had to learn to really buy in to what we were supposed to do and play together.
"Behind the scenes, I guess I almost do use some of that stuff that I did learn."
One objective early in the season for SHS has been to build team character. Communication and teamwork are stressed, and the players have taken notice.
"We're talking a lot more than we have in the past on defense and offense," Sanders said. "We're definitely communicating better."
"I love what I see so far," Smith said. "Our guys come in every day with a great attitude, they give maximum effort and they compete hard against one another. We're really pushing each other to the limits so we can become a better basketball team. It's a lot of fun."
Superior will trot out a number of different defensive schemes this season, but Smith said basic man-to-man will see more use than in previous years.
"We're looking to do a few different things this year defensively," Smith said. "That trapping defense that we've had in the past has been great. We're still going to do that. ... But this first week and a half or so we've been working on a lot of man-to-man breakdown defensive drills."
Smith said it is a learning process, but he expects it to pay off later in the season.
"I truly believe if you can play a solid man-to-man defense, you can be great at any defense you can play."
The Spartans start with a blank slate on offense.
Anderson, who was state qualifier in track last year, has been tagged to take over at point guard. Smith said the senior brings quickness and a clear head to the position.
"I like when the ball is in his hands. I like when he makes decisions," Smith said.
Fans can expect to see more backdoor cuts and pick-and-roll plays from the Spartans this year. Anderson said Superior has good speed and will use that to its advantage.
In the post, Superior is working to develop a number of players, including Rivord, Gray and Lindberg. Simth said the Spartans plan to have a bigger presence under the basket this year.
"I think we can actually do some damage with our post players near the basket this year," Smith said.
Superior has dominated Lake Superior Conference play in recent years, but the Spartans may be in for a dogfight in the 2013-14 season.
"This is probably the best overall conference that I've seen in all my years being here," Anderson said. "But I still think we have a really good team that will be up there for the title."
Other teams predicted to be near the top of the standings are Hermantown, Cloquet and Ashland.
"Every night I think you've got to go out there and play as hard as you can," Smith said. "There's some quality teams out there."
Superior opens its season Tuesday at Duluth Denfeld.
5. Jake Libal Jr.
11. John Curphy Jr.
13. Carter Anderson Sr.
21. Jon Lindberg Sr.
23. Nate Sanders Jr.
25. Matt O'Shaughnessy Sr.
31. McKenzie Schwarz Jr.
33. Will Stream Sr.
35. Jeb Kimmes Jr.
53. Devan Rivord Jr.
55. Connor Gray Jr.
Head coach: Jake Smith
JV coach: Jeff Anderson
Freshman coach: Rick Raymond
Volunteer coaches: Brent Engstrom and Jed Carlson