Belleville West boys basketball coach Joe Muniz doesn’t mind this problem.
Muniz has perhaps his deepest roster in 13 years with the Maroons, with as many as 11 players battling for minutes that, thus far, they appear to deserve.
“We’ve got our entire starting five back, a couple of transfers who are in the mix and some young kids that are playing really well right now,” Muniz said. “Good problems, but tough coaching-decision problems. I’m excited about where we’re at.”
The Maroons were 14-14 overall and 7-7 in the Southwestern Conference last season. The league figures to be deeper and more talented, thanks in part to West’s improvement.
“I want our expectations to be higher than what they’ve been the last few years,” Muniz said. “I would like to contend for the conference championship. I think we’ve got the players to do it. But I don’t know if the conference has been better from top to bottom than what we’re going to see this year.”
Leading the way
Senior Tyler Dancy and sophomore E.J. Liddell, both of whom are 6-foot-7, return as the Maroons’ top scorers. Liddell averaged 17.3 points and 5.9 rebounds and made 20 3-pointers, while the 276-pound Dancy averaged 16.3 points and seven rebounds.
Liddell and his inside-outside game already are drawing interest from Division I programs.
“He’s improved a lot,” Muniz said. “He’s consistently making threes, he’s putting the ball on the floor from the perimeter and taking people off the dribble. And obviously, he rebounds well. He’s a veteran now. This isn’t new to him. (But) there are a lot of things he needs to get better at. Being a consistent, overall defensive player would be one.”
I want our expectations to be higher than what they’ve been the last few years. I would like to contend for the (Southwestern) conference championship. I think we’ve got the players to do it. But I don’t know if the conference has been better from top to bottom than what we’re going to see this year.
Belleville West boys basketball coach Joe Muniz
Liddell has offers from Illinois and DePaul. St. Louis University, Iowa, Creighton, Butler, Iowa State, Kansas State, Bradley and Missouri State also have expressed interest.
Dancy, who has received an offer from Missouri-St. Louis, is in his fourth year as a starter.
“He’s scoring not just from the post, but from the perimeter,” Muniz said. “He’s willing to take the ball to the basket from the outside. His leadership skills have gotten better. Tyler and E.J. feed off each other, so I’m very excited about those two and their development.”
Others returning include 6-5 senior Dalton Fox, 6-0 senior Elijah Powell, and 5-11 seniors DeAndre Jackson, Ian Parker and Justin Edwards, and 5-9 sophomore Will Lanxon. Another senior, 5-11 Jordan Parks, returns after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
“This is going to be a collective group effort,” Muniz said. “It’s not going to be one or two players, in my opinion. It’s going to be 10 to 12 players to lead this team to success.
“The competition has been outstanding in practice. That’s what makes this team so much fun.”
Jackson will start at the point, most likely alongside shooting guard Lanxon, who saw limited action as a freshman last year but enjoyed a strong summer. Fox, who averaged 3.4 points and 2.8 rebounds last season, will start on the front line with Dancy and Liddell.
“DeAndre is our lead dog. He’s tough,” Muniz said. “He takes care of the basketball and he’ll guard everybody’s best player. He’ll get the ball where we need to get the ball. But more importantly, this year he’s shooting the ball so much better.”
Powell averaged 6.4 points and a team-best 3.3 assists last season. Parks is a combo guard who played as a sophomore and, according to Muniz, has “been dynamite.”
“Adding him to the guys that were here last year just makes us even stronger,” Muniz said. “He’s playing exceptionally hard. He’s playing well. One of our problems (last season) was taking care of the basketball, and he’s somebody who does that very well.”
The Maroons also added a pair of transfers: 6-2 junior Will Matthews, formerly of Whitfield High in St. Louis, and 6-5 sophomore Keith Randolph, who had been at CBC in St. Louis.
“Will started on the team that finished fourth in the state (in Class 3) at Whitfield last year,” Muniz said. “He’s left-handed, a big, strong kid. He shoots the ball fairly well and plays exceptionally hard. He rebounds well and guards well. He’s a great asset.
“The Randolph kid probably has the best motor in the gym. He plays extremely hard, has a knack for offensive rebounding and he really likes to get out and guard. He’s a great complement to Tyler, E.J. and Dalton.”
Muniz said another player, 6-1 sophomore Jaylin Mosby, is West’s “best overall athlete.”
Two players did not return. Senior Logan Betz decided to concentrate on football and senior Jack Lanxon opted to focus on baseball. Each averaged fewer than three points last year.
“I appreciate what they’ve done,” Muniz said. “They made the right choice for them.”