BELLEVILLE — Despite missing at least one starter and four other players involved in Althoff's extended football playoff run, Crusaders basketball coach Greg Leib is far from disappointed.
"I've been giving Coach (Ken) Turner a hard time, but I've been the biggest fan and I hope they do it," joked Leib, who witnessed the Crusaders' 28-7 Class 2A semifinal victory over Camp Point Central-Southeastern on Saturday. "They've already messed up my season so they might as well win it all. It's been a good challenge, but the kids have responded well and we've gotten a lot done with the short numbers that we have."
Althoff finished 11-16 last season, losing to South Seven Conference rival Cahokia in the regional. With starting guard Kevin Renner and only a handful of players that saw significant playing time returning, the Crusaders will need to develop chemistry and determine roles quickly.
"We've got some length," Leib said. "We're not 6-7 and 6-8, but we've got some 6-3, 6-4 and 6-5 guys that are long and that could be a strength for us. Our basketball IQ's should be pretty high, too. They understand the game."
Renner was tied for second on the team in scoring last season, averaging 7.5 points with 51 assists and 40 steals.
"He had a good year for us and he's had a great preseason," Leib said. "He's shooting it a little better than he did last year and Kevin's worked on his game. His shot's gotten better and I like his overall approach."
The Crusaders are also counting on 6-3 senior swingman Ryan Marcum.
"He's long, fast and he grew his hair out this year, so he must have watched some 80's movies over the summer," Leib said "He's had a really good two weeks so far."
Senior guard Chaun Wells missed last season because of knee surgery and could become an important contributor, according to Leib.
"There's nobody more hungry than Chaun to play this year after missing last year," Leib said. "He's doing really well, his lateral quickness has returned and his explosiveness. Getting out there in game speed and game tempo and trusting it will be the biggest thing for him."
Leib likes the confidence of 6-1 shooting guard Grant Strieker, who has been part of Althoff's back-to-back state championship golf teams.
"He's walking around with all those rings on his fingers like Phil Jackson," quipped Leib. "He really shoots it well. He plays a little bigger than 6-1 or 6-2 and he's got that hard-nosed approach."
Leib also has high hopes for 6-foot-4 freshman forward Brendan Gooch.
"He's like (NBA star) Kevin Durant, with his long arms he plays about 6-7," Leib said. "He's got a really long reach. He's been working really hard and with the situation we're in right now, working with those guys that are here, he's done a great job.
"He's getting the opportunity to do some things based upon the success of football, so I told him to make the most of this."
Furmanek is a 6-4 senior who averaged seven points and seven rebounds last season. Other football players who will be vying for playing time in the rotation are Erik Krause, Eric Mertens, Luke Frazier and Dennis Jackson.
"I know they'll come back and get after it, that's why they're still playing now," Leib said.
Leib said Cahokia is the clear favorite in the South Seven Conference.
"There's a lot of parity after Cahokia, but some of those guys need to declare for the NBA draft," Leib said. "Cahokia's going to be really talented."
Leib also likes Centralia and said Marion should be improved under new head coach Shane Hawkins, former coach at Trico who starred at Pinckneyville High and Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.