Last year at this time, Belleville East head basketball coach Abel Schrader wasn’t exactly sure what he could expect from his team.
The Lancers were young and athletic, but ultimately unproven. They limped through eight straight losses to close their season at 8-19.
But time and experience has taken some of the mystery out of the Lancers and Schrader says East will be “in the mix” among the top teams in the Southwestern Conference.
The difference, he says, is depth and chemistry.
“We feel like we have guys with a lot of varsity game experience,” said Schrader, who is entering his fourth season at East. “Honestly, we have seven or eight guys we consider to be starters. With the experience we have coming back, we think we have a chance to be competitive.”
Honestly, we have seven or eight guys we consider to be starters. With the experience we have coming back, we think we have a chance to be competitive.
Abel Schrader, Belleville East head basketball coach
At least seven Lancers will see significant time throughout the course of the season. An eighth will earn time as he grows into his role.
All of them will be used, Schrader says, in any countless number of combinations based on getting the best match up with an opponent.
“This isn’t about one or two guys,” he said. “Guys have accepted their roles, for the most part, and they know when and how they have to play. We’ve also got a bunch of guys who compete.”
Schrader diverts conversations away from any one or two players on his roster, preferring to speak to the chemistry that was built last year and with the success that was built during the summer season.
“We do a lot of things together outside basketball,” he said. “They do extracurricular stuff together, we all went to St. Matthews Church Saturday as a team to help serve Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a great thing to see them getting closer, because ultimately, I think it helps them play better together too.”
The Lancers lost four seniors from last season, including forward Brady Schanuel, who averaged 7.7 points per game and was second on the team with 5.8 rebounds per game.
Returning, however, is top scorer Javon Pickett, who opened the season with 41 points against Springfield Monday night. He led the Lancers last season averaging 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds.
“Javon gained a little weight and has gotten stronger,” Schrader said. “We obviously need him to score points, but I feel like we have other guys who can do things as well.”
That includes junior Rico Sylvester (11 points per game), senior Jalen Jones (8.2 points, 2.4 rebounds), senior point guard Drew Millas (6.6 points, 2.4 rebounds), and senior Isaiah King (1.6 points).
Senior Feron Doss and newcomer Jordan Yates also will be part of the regular rotation, as could sophomore Malachi Smith.
It's a great thing to see them getting closer, because ultimately, I think it helps them play better together too.
“We’re tinkering with lineups and seeing who plays best together,” Schrader said. “We’ll consider all those guys starters and they’ll know they’ll get a lot of playing time for us.”
O’Fallon transfer Jakari Cannon didn’t play basketball as a freshman and missed most of last season with an injury. But at 6-foot-7, he could become another option for Schrader as he develops his game throughout the year.
“He’s 6-7, athletic, he can catch the ball,” Schrader said. “What he lacks is on-the-court experience. We’re trying to catch him up as quickly as possible.”
Belleville East has started its season with play in the Centralia Thanksgiving Tournament, which continues through Saturday. The Lancers then travel to Marion on Dec. 5 before opening Southwestern Conference play at home against Edwardsville on Dec. 8.
“I think one of the keys for us is how we guard,” Schrader said. “If we can guard guys and make them take tough shots, lengthen possessions and rebound the basketball, we’ll be pretty competitive.”