Metro-east basketball teams had a good idea about what they were going to get last season when they faced Belleville West.
Six players took a bulk of the Maroons’ court time until injuries forced a more variety into the lineup. The Maroons lost nine of their last 11 games to finish 9-19.
But 12th-year head coach Joe Muniz started practice earlier this month with a roster full of players who will not just play, but contribute.
In football terms, Belleville West will be far more multiple in its approach.
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“Last season, I could tell you who my five starters were and everybody knew it,” Muniz said. “But, this year we’ll hit the floor with nine guys. We’ll be able to vary our style. We can play to our strengths against certain opponents.”
I thought when we walked into last season, we had five or six guys because we were so young. This year is a different.
Joe Muniz, Belleville West head basketball coach
The Maroons lost some big pieces to graduation, including forward Eugene Jones, who scored a team-high 14.7 points per game in addition to pulling down 6.5 rebounds per game. Top rebounder Will Presson (7 points, 7 rebounds) also has moved on, as have Demond White (9.6 points per game) and Donovan Whitney (4.8 points per game).
There remain certain anchors around which Muniz and his staff can build, however. Three-year starter Tyler Dancy, for instance, won’t give away much playing time. Neither will seniors Andy Berhmann and Tommy Evans ,who Muniz calls “ the heart and soul” of the team.
What changes is the roles each can play and the depth stacked up behind them.
“What I really like about our team is the depth,” Muniz said. “The nice part about it is that we’re not just relegated to five guys. I thought when we walked into last season, we had five or six guys because we were so young. This year is a different. Tyler is back, but we’ve got other pieces to put in there.”
144-148 Muniz record through 11 years as head coach at West
Among the most intriguing of the new pieces is freshman E.J. Liddell, who will crack the starting five at forward. He has an athletic 6-foot-7 frame that makes him a threat both posting up and on the perimeter.
“He’s a great scorer,” Muniz said. “You like to see a big guy who can do more than just post up. I think the goal for him is to be in the wing as he becomes older and becomes a ball handler. He has a chance to be special and if he can work himself into a complete player, he’ll be pretty much unguardable.”
Dancy, 6-foot-6, but a more formidable 285 pounds, was relied on last season to man the post, but has developed enough shooting range that Muniz trusts him even beyond the 3-point arc.
Liddell, Behrmann (6-foot-3), and junior Dalton Fox (6-foot-4) also have the kind of size and range that create match-up problems for opponents.
“Tyler, E.J., Andy, Dalton Fox, those are guys that we can put out there and can basically post anybody up or score from the outside against anybody,” said Muniz. “They are all interchangeable parts. They all can handle it, they all can pass it, they all can shoot it.”
I think our No. 1 strength is offensive rebounding. We won't be one shot and done. We'll get second and third shots too.
If the shots don’t fall, the Maroons have the size to rebound for second and third shots, which Muniz says will be a team strength.
“I think our No. 1 strength is offensive rebounding,” he said. “We won’t be one shot and done. We’ll get second and third shots too.”
The final spot in the starting five is up for grabs between juniors Elijah Powell and DeAndre Jackson. Logan Betz, who shot five 3-pointers off the bench last year, and Jack Lanxon, still on the mend from a football injury, also will be in the mix, as will senior Chris Cruise.
Muniz can inject even more size with addition of 6-foot-7 McCluer North transfer Ben Pippins.
The Maroons’ season will tip-off against Ladue in the Vianney Tournament on Monday. Conference play begins Dec. 8 at Granite City.
“We have a very strong conference again this year — you can’t take a night off against anybody in this league,” Muniz said. “I think this year, one through eight, anybody can beat anybody. I like what we’ve got and I’ll take my chances with them against anybody.”