On the many days Granite City Warriors basketball coach Steve Roustio opens the gym for early-morning extra work, senior Kenny Berry is there so often he might as well bring breakfast.
“It’s been fun just working with a kid that had the hunger,” Roustio said. “He wanted to get better and it was fun to be around someone that wanted to build and enhance their game the way Kenny did.”
Roustio said that type of dedication has a made a difference in Berry’s third year as a starter.
“His shooting’s incredible,” Roustio said of Berry, who tossed in 31 points Friday in a 54-47 Southwestern Conference loss to state-ranked Edwardsville. “The kid works so hard on shooting. That had to be his best game at Granite. For Kenny Berry to get 31 points against Edwardsville ... nobody can say they did a very good job on him.
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“We ran a bunch of sets where we could get him open and part of that success comes from the fact we have a lot of guys that are unselfish.”
Roustio said Berry’s experience has helped, but his confidence is also much higher than it was previously. The 31-point outing against Edwardsville was his third game or 30 or more points.
Berry also had 30 in the season-opener against Triad and a season-high 34 Dec. 29 against Collinsville.
In Berry’s three seasons as a starter, Granite City has gone from 2-25 to 11-17 and now the Warriors are over .500 at 12-11. With wins in four of their last five games, the Warriors could be a potentially dangerous team in the postseason.
“This is his third year as a starter, so nothing takes him by surprise in terms of preparation or what he has to do to get ready for games or to face different defenses,” Roustio said.
The 6-foot-2 senior guard is among the area scoring leaders at 20.1 points per game with a team-leading 40 3-pointers. Berry also averages four rebounds and just under three assists.
“His work ethic has been better and his mental preparation in terms of what he’s going to face on Tuesday and Friday nights has been better, too,” Roustio said.
Roustio said Berry (6-2, 170) will need to add strength, but has enough skill that Western Illinois, Lincoln Land Community College and several other schools have shown interest.
“He’s worked on his ballhandling and we want him to get a lot of shots, but he’s also a huge part of why we don’t get pressed because he handles the ball well,” Roustio said. “I believe the higher he goes, he’s going to have to play (the point). His ability to shoot at a (point guard) spot could be scary good for some programs. His physicality’s got to be worked on.
“Shooting-wise, he’s had an incredible year. With drawing the best defender in our league, and you know how brutal our league is, for him to have the year he’s had is really good. He’s a great kid, too.”
Strong finish for Wesclin?
It has been a struggle at times this season for the Wesclin Warriors, but the senior-laden team is trying to force its way into a strong finish.
The Warriors (12-13) have won five of their last six games and senior guard Jarad Steenbergen recently surpassed 1,000 career points, providing another positive step for coach Brent Brede’s program.
“We’re playing about as well as I thought we could play,” said Brede, whose teams recent wins have been over Carlyle, Freeburg, Greenville, Red Bud and Vandalia with the lone loss against state-ranked Cahokia Conference rival Central. “It took a little longer for us to get there, but we’re happy with the level of play we’ve had the last month or so.
“The guys that we had hopes would contribute are doing that. Jake Stephens is having a great finish to his senior year and Steenbergen has been solid.”
Steenbergen (13 points per game) leads the team in scoring, 3-pointers (62) and assists). The four-year starter gets a lot done for a diminutive senior guard who stands 5-9 and weighs around 150 pounds.
“He’s very solid and very steady,” Brede said of Steenbergen,” Wesclin’s first 1,000-point scorer since Alex Wilken. “He just shoots the ball so well and gets so much done for his stature. In order to be an effective as he’s been, you have to have talent, which he does, and you’ve got to have heart and tough-mindedness.
“That’s what makes him so good.”
Steenbergen’s relentless approach serves him well and may be rubbing off on his teammates.
“We’re finally starting to get our younger guys involved more and they’re starting to grow up a bit,” Steenbergen said, pointing to sophomores Brandon Courtney and Hunter Ottensmeier. “Before, we always had that third-quarter hump we couldn’t get over most of the time and we didn’t really guard very well at times this season.
“Now we’re finally starting to get more confidence and we’re getting better toward regional time.”
Steenbergen said being a bit smaller provides a lot of motivation.
“I spend a lot of hours in the gym and it’s good to see it pay off,” he said.
Brede also knows when the Warriors have a crucial possession or need a big shot, Steenbergen never shies away from the opportunity.
“He hits big shots, too,” Brede said. “In a crucial situation, he’s usually the guy to get it done.”
Jake Stephens, a 6-foot-7 senior center, averages 11.4 points and 4.8 rebounds. Stephens has been inconsistent at times, but Brede said he might be playing the best basketball of his career.
Stephens has averaged close to 17 points in the second half of the season while senior Jared Timmermann (10.5 ppg) is another double-digit scorer.
Stephens has at least 17 points in six of his last 10 games.
“His skills didn’t change, but his level of confidence and willingness to get the ball and get baskets for us has changed,” Brede said. “He’s matured into someone I think kind of saw that the end of his high school career was on its way and he’s been playing really well.”
There were high expectations for Stephens, who spent time on the bench earlier this season and was held out of the starting lineup at least once.
“He had to hit rock bottom,” Brede said. “It was absolutely a message being sent. I was hoping the bench was the bottom for him because we tried everything else. It seemed to be effective. He’s playing much better.”
Mater Dei grad riding offensive surge
Mater Dei graduate Cory Arentsen has always been a more than capable scorer and NCAA Division II Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., is reaping the rewards.
The 6-foot-5 senior guard exploded for a school 46 points Feb. 6 in a 75-73 loss to 24th-ranked Northwest Missouri State. The previous school record was 44 points by Brandon Braswell in 1992 and Earl Austin Jr., in 1986.
On his 46-point night, Arentsen drained eight of his 12 3-point tries and 16 of his 26 field-goal attempts.
It was the second 40-point outing this season for Arentsen, who also had 40 against Northwestern State. Arentsen has been successful on 42 percent (69-of-163) of his 3-point attempts.
The Trenton native who began his college career at Austin Peay also fired in 33 points Saturday in a 59-57 loss to Washburn, pushing him over the 1,000-point mark in his relatively short career at Lindenwood.
Arentsen is averages a team-high 23.3 points for the Lions (15-9). He’s also hit 111 of his 123 free-throw attempts (90 percent) and averages 5.7 rebounds.
He recently made the cut of 50 finalists on the watch list for the Bevo Francis Award, which is given to the top small-college player in the nation.
Belleville News-Democrat Boys Basketball Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records through Sunday:
Large school rankings (Class 3A-4A)
East St. Louis
Also receiving votes: Granite City (12-11), Belleville West (10-13), Cahokia (11-13), Mater Dei (18-6), Columbia (17-6), Highland (13-12)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Also receiving votes: Wesclin (12-13), Roxana (18-9), Carlyle (13-15)