By PAUL HINES
Brian Gamber wants to implement fundamental principles in his inaugural basketball season, but his goal isn’t to make a replica of Mt. Vernon.
The first-year coach takes over Waltonville’s boys basketball team after six years as an assistant coach for his brother Scott at Mt. Vernon. He said the transition to the new school has been comfortable.
“Will you see some similarities? Absolutely,” Gamber said. “Whenever you are part of a coaching staff for six years, are you going to use some of the same things? Yes. But at the same time they do what they do to be able to compete with their schedule where as we’re going to do things for us to compete with our schedule.”
He added one of the differences between assistant and head coach is planning and preparation.
“You are kind of the guy,” Gamber said. “You don’t have to run certain things that maybe your head coach does. Basically whatever you believe in, that’s kind of the way it’s going to go.”
He hopes one of the trademarks of the team is its defense.
“We’ve really been preaching that as far as protect the lane, no easy baskets, make people beat you from the outside,” Gamber said.
Gamber takes over a team that returns several starters. A trio of seniors — Trey Witges, Jordan Hale and Matt Rogers — all heavily contributed for the Spartans last year. Witges and Hale led the Spartans offensively a year ago.
“I’m sure a lot of schools out there they probably think of Waltonville, that’s probably who they think about, which is fine,” Gamber said. “I just told them, ‘Go play don’t worry about that stuff.’”
In addition to the three starters from a year ago, the Spartans return a host of juniors for their senior seasons. Patrick Buza, Derrick Whitsenant and Levi Laird are all expected to be key contributors this season. They’re joined by juniors Hunter Coggins, Austin Zahm and Justin Winchester.
“I really think all those guys could contribute, and that’s kind of where we’re at,” Gamber said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are battling it out to see who’s going to get those minutes. So we’re going to see how practice goes and let guys earn their playing time by competing and doing things the right way.”
Waltonville also adds Tyler Harmon, a senior, who moved from Pinckneyville. Zahm, Harmon and Buza will provide a post presence for the Spartans along with the long and rangy Hale.
“I think Austin is more of the true post more than any other guy we have,” Gamber said. “Tyler, he’s a big, strong kid who can post, and he does post pretty well.
“As far as bulk and toughness and strength, I feel like we are going to have several guys that are going to protect the paint and do a good job posting for us.”
This season brings a return to the Midland Trail Conference for the Spartans. Gamber said he’s pleased the school is back in the conference because it solidifies a schedule that was in flux from season to season.
“I think now being in a conference, getting to play in that Midland Trail Conference tournament, I feel like that’s important for a lot of people,” Gamber said. “I think a lot of schools get excited about that. It gives the kids a chance to play in a mid-winter tournament to try to win a conference championship.”
One of the biggest adjustments for Gamber during conference action will be playing each team just once. South Seven schools face conference foes twice each season.