BELLEVILLE — As a Belleville West basketball assistant, Abel Schrader was part of a coaching staff that devised a game plan last season that led to a West victory over Belleville East in the regional championship game.
Now the Lancers' head coach, Schrader has taken his considerable coaching skills and experience across town and is ready to push his new team on what he hopes is a long playoff ride.
"I get a chance to be around the game of basketball and to coach some of the best athletes in this area, so I look forward to the opportunity," said Schrader, whose team opens the season against Mascoutah at 6:15 p.m. Monday in the Centralia Thanksgiving Tournament. "I'm very fortunate in the fact that we have some talented kids, but also kids that come with really high character."
Of course it also helps to have a University of Illinois recruit on the roster in 6-foot-7 senior guard Malcolm Hill. Hill torched opposing defenses for 23.8 points per game a year ago, including a team-leading 47 3-pointers.
"I've had an opportunity to watch him for three years and he's a motivated kid with a very good skill set," Schrader said. "I'm fortunate to get a chance to be around him and to coach him. He can score from a lot of different places on the court, which makes him hard to guard and a tough matchup."
Hill is a highly known quantity, so Schrader is already preparing his team for an array of defensive schemes trying to slow down the future Illini guard.
"I expect that we will deal with zones and some types of junk defenses, box-and-one, triangle-and-two, things like that," Schrader said.
Former East coach Ray Hoffman resigned after last season. He guided the Lancers to a 19-10 record, including a 9-5 mark in the Southwestern Conference.
The return of Hill and an experienced squad has expectations running extremely high for the Lancers, who failed to advance out of the regional last season.
Schrader hasn't heard much talk like that from his own players, however.
"It really doesn't come up," he said. "Hopefully, from my standpoint, they're motivated by some of that. It's not something that they talk about. We have a long way to go in terms of playing together as a team.
"We're going to constantly try to keep improving, but we really won't know until we play somebody."
Schrader is also hoping for more scoring from returning starters Darreon Reddick (8.1 ppg, 75 assists), a 6-3 junior point guard, and 6-2 senior forward Khalil Smith-Traylor (4.4 ppg).
Reddick already has several Division I scholarship offers and could be one of the top point guards in the state.
"He's got to not only buy into being a point guard, but he needs to look more for his shot than he did before and be more aggressive," Schrader said. "We need Darreon to be more aggressive and assertive on the offensive end, but also realize as the point guard he's running the team."
Others in the mix include 6-4 junior forward Cameron Hunter (3.4 ppg), senior forward-center Terrance Akins, senior guards James White and Patrick Smith and junior guard Daymione Cross.
Schrader is also intrigued by Hunter's potential.
"He's a kid that potentially, we can get production out of him every night," Schrader said.
The Lancers added more strength and athleticism when 6-3 star senior football linebacker James Cotton decided to play again after sitting out last season.
Cotton played basketball as a freshman and sophomore.
"I like the football mentality in him, he's hard-nosed and he's strong," Schrader said. "He's willing to do the dirty work."
Schrader is looking forward to getting some games under his belt and seeing how the team comes together.
"Until you start playing and seeing these guys play in front of people, there is an uncertainty," he said. "The good news is we get to find out in a few days where we're at."
Schrader believes the Southwestern Conference is "going to be extremely tough from top to bottom. Night-in and night- out you're dealing with very good athletes, very good teams and very good coaches. It's going to be a battle and you've got to expect that."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.