By PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
Defense is often the calling card of the Rams basketball team, but the quality will be emphasized even more this season.
“There’s going to be nights where we’re really going to have to tighten things up defensively,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said.
Gone are three of Mt. Vernon’s top offensive options. Ty’Riil Trimble, Leonta Badger and Clay Payne all graduated, leaving a sizable offensive crater in their wake. Trimble and Badger brought athleticism and skill, allowing the Rams to net easy baskets at times with their one-on-one abilities. Payne contributed a craftiness around the basket, often leaving defenders off balance and foul prone. All three could consistently attacked the basket.
“That’s probably a question mark,” Gamber said. “Can we do that again when we need to. Teams will take away our strengths. Can we score in other ways?”
The departure of Trimble and Badger robs the Rams of some athleticism. Several times Mt. Vernon turned to Trimble in the closing seconds of games looking for a last-second shot. Gamber said without some of that athleticism on offense, the way the Rams play defensively will be critical.
One of the strengths will be the team’s outside shooting. The Rams will get key contributions from Jake Pike and Travis Mitchell who saw minutes at the varsity level a year ago. Pike and Mitchell teamed with returning starter Trevor Flota will give the Rams a solid outside shooting attack.
“Those are three guys that shoot the basketball pretty well from the perimeter,” Gamber said. “So I think we’ll be threats from the perimeter. It’s just are we going to be able to score outside of our perimeter shooting? Because I think you have to. That’s probably the biggest question mark right now.”
In addition to Flota, Jarron Liddell is back. Both started throughout the season for the Rams. Post player Michael Feezer is also back after spending last season as the Rams’ sixth man.
Liddell will be the team’s point guard. He’ll receive help at the position from freshman Braden Fitzjerrells, who played grade school basketball for Waltonville. Gamber said the freshman is expected to contribute this season for the Rams, and lineups could include both Liddell and Fitzjerrells on the court at the same time.
“We’re going to ask (Fitzjerrells) to learn the point guard, but then we also want him to learn some other positions as well,” Gamber said.
Flota’s role last season was primarily contained to spot up shooting. Gamber said he wants Flota’s offense to evolve this season.
“What I hope that Trevor can do this year is maybe expand that a little bit,” Gamber said. “Yes he really needs to be able to shoot the ball on the perimeter when he gets set. I would like for him if he has to for him to be able to create a little bit from that as well.”
Feezer spent most of last season behind Badger and is expect to slide into the starting lineup this year. He is an athletic player who can play with his back to the basket or facing the rim.
“I’m hoping to have a really good season out of him, and he’s our big man this year,” Gamber said.
The Rams were an undersized team a season ago and will be again this season. Gamber said his team could surround a post player with a quartet of guards at times.
“Because of our lack of size, we need everything to come together,” Gamber said. “We can’t have one thing and we’re not getting the production we need out of this person because we just don’t have the depth yet to be able to replace that.”
Playing with a variety of guards could mean players like Mitchell and Pike will be matched up against larger opponents. Payne was often in a similar position a season ago when he played at a power forward position despite being a more natural fit on the perimeter.
Behind Feezer in the post will be QwyMann Cantley. The defensive lineman during football season brings bulk around the basket. Shakari Hawkins is also a player who will see action in the post.
Mt. Vernon opens the season in the Marion Pyramid Tournament. The Rams opening game is at 6:30 p.m. tonight against Herrin. Mt. Vernon is the defending tournament champion.
“I think it’s a great mix. I think we’ll get to see several different styles of play,” Gamber said. “I think we’re going to get to see a wide variety in size, athleticism.”