In seniors Javon Pickett and Rico Sylvester, Belleville East expects to have two of the better players in the metro-east and in the Southwestern Conference.
The 6-foot-4 Pickett, an Illinois recruit, is a swingman who is dangerous from all points on the floor. The 6-2 Sylvester can stretch a defense with his 3-point shooting or drive past it.
“The last two years, Javon and Rico have been pretty much the backbone of our team,” Lancers coach Abel Schrader said. “They’ve really improved not only as players, but in their leadership ability, too. That’s continued to get better and grow as we come into their senior year. They’re great senior leaders for us. They’re our backbone.”
The last two years, Javon and Rico have been pretty much the backbone of our team. They’ve really improved not only as players, but in their leadership ability, too. That’s continued to get better and grow as we come into their senior year. They’re great senior leaders for us.
Belleville East boys basketball coach Abel Schrader
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Schrader likes what he’s seen in preseason workouts. The Lancers, who were 18-11 overall and 8-6 in the SWC last year, will play their first game at 6:15 p.m. Monday against Mascoutah in the Centralia Thanksgiving Tournament.
“We’ve had a good couple of weeks of practice,” said Schrader, in his fifth season. “The team is playing together and being unselfish.”
Leading the way
Pickett averaged 23.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists as a junior. He has amassed 1,025 career points, with most of that damage coming in the last two seasons. Sylvester averaged 12.8 points and 3.2 assists and led the Lancers with 55 3-pointers. He has 791 career points.
Sylvester has an outgoing personality and is a solid leader. Pickett, a quiet sort, has made it his mission to be more vocal and provide better leadership as a senior.
On the court, they are interchangeable. Both can play the point and the wing.
“Rico is the point guard, but Javon can bring the ball up the court for us, too,” Schrader said. “Javon has the ability not only to score points, but he can be a good passer. He has the ability to make kids better by getting them an open shot.”
Other key players for the Lancers will be 6-0 senior E.J. Aldridge and 6-3 juniors Malachi Smith and Jordan Yates, who are expected to join Pickett and Sylvester in the starting lineup.
Smith could be ready for a breakout season. He showed promise as a sophomore when he contributed 5.4 points per game, shot 66 percent from the field and made 15 3-pointers.
“Malachi has the ability to score the basketball and do some really good things,” Schrader said. “He’s going to get a lot of time. He’s grown a little bit and has the potential to be a really good basketball player. He’s physically matured and is ready to have a nice year for us.”
Schrader said Smith, like Sylvester and Pickett, is a polished ballhandler who can help the Lancers escape backcourt pressure.
Yates played in 28 games last year and averaged 2.6 points. Aldridge played in just six games last season, but Schrader likes the improvement he’s made and that he plays bigger than he is.
“Jordan Yates isn’t big, but he’s an athletic kid who we’re going to ask a lot from as well,” Schrader said. “We’re going to rely on him heavily to be able to guard and take away the middle and make it tough on guys who are bigger than him. He’s a strong kid.
“Aldridge has been waiting his turn. He has the ability to score the basketball. He’s only 6-0, but he’ll play the four spot for us.”
Other players are 5-10 senior Roderick Morgan, 5-9 senior Khalil Rainey, 6-0 junior Max Dipasquale, 6-2 junior Jaylen Lacey and 5-9 sophomore Kienen Waller.
Alex Smith, a 6-6, 235-pound junior, who would have provided the Lancers with a needed inside force, suffered a season-ending knee injury last week.
“Going into the season, we had a 6-7 kid and Alex Smith was 6-6, a big, wide-bodied kid,” Schrader said. “The 6-7 kid decided not to play. Alex Smith just tore his ACL. It’s so terrible for him. We thought we had a little bit of size, for once, and a little bit of depth at that position, for once. That’s not going to happen this year.
“If you look at our conference schools, everyone’s going to have a player bigger than us. We have to play bigger than what we are. We have to play tougher, do things a little bit better and continue to progress by the way we defensive rebound and guard.”