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July 20, 2019

Kirk Mathews puts up a layup against Joe Lieder during a Rhinelander High School boys’ basketball team contact day at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium Friday, June 14. With an undersized squad set to return, coach Derek Lemmens said the Hodags will likely play more uptempo next season. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Kirk Mathews puts up a layup against Joe Lieder during a Rhinelander High School boys’ basketball team contact day at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium Friday, June 14. With an undersized squad set to return, coach Derek Lemmens said the Hodags will likely play more uptempo next season. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
6/18/2019 7:31:00 AM
Hodag hoops looking to pick up the pace in offeseason

Jeremy Mayo
Sports Editor


There was a lot of up and down Friday as the Rhinelander High School boys' basketball team held its first contact day of the summer. Coach Derek Lemmens figured it will have to be that way for his team once it hits the court for real this November.

Following the team's first sub-.500 season since 2010-11, the Hodags are hoping that picking up the pace will help an undersized squad be more successful next season.

"We're not going to have a lot of size and we're going to have a lot of guys kind of in a logjam, ability-wise," Lemmens said following Friday's practice. "It's kind of a good problem because we've got a lot of good players. We don't have a lot of guys who have separated themselves. We have a few of those but the rest of them are very even and they can play."

The Hodags weren't exactly blessed with a ton of height last year, either. The three players on the roster listed taller than 6-foot-2 - all-conference forward Bryce Schickert and reserves Neil Mathews and Patrick Stone - all graduated. Given that a slower, half-court game is not likely to play into the hands of the vertically challenged Hodags, Lemmens said his squad will need to go about beating teams differently next year.

"We want to go deep bench and, if we want to do that, we've got to dictate tempo. Uptempo is definitely something we're working toward this summer," he said.

Lemmens said the team could not do much in the two-hour session, but it tried to lay some of the groundwork for the rest of the summer and the upcoming season.

"We're working on just playing, competing, just putting our system in a little bit," he said. "You're so limited on what you can do because you don't have the time to do too much. It's just some very basic concepts - how we space, what we're looking for - and really just starting to develop a mindset that we need going into next season."

The contact day is just one facet of the Hodags' summer program. Team workouts are available twice a week, along with open gyms five days a week. The varsity team is once again taking part in the UW-Stevens Point at Wausau League on Tuesday nights along with a couple of other tournaments and camps during the summer.

"We try to create as many opportunities as we can because guys, they're busy, too," Lemmens said. "Some will attend just about all of them. Some will make what they can. Summer is all about development as an athlete, as a basketball player, so hopefully guys take advantage of it."

The Hodags enter the season looking to replace their top two scorers from last year - Junior Howard (13.4 ppg) and Schickert (9.5 ppg). Starters Drake Martin (8.7 ppg), Peyton Erikson (8.4 ppg) and Ross Skeen (7.5 ppg) are all slated to return.

Rhinelander is looking to shore up a defense that gave up 63.1 points per game on average - by far the highest total in Lemmens' nine seasons at the helm.

"We've got some really nice core players and we've got a lot of other guys that just need to find themselves, find a niche," he said. "If we get all of these guys playing together and playing within themselves, we've got plenty of talent to do some nice things. But if it's constant everyone trying to get theirs, it's going to be a very long year."

If that line sounds familiar, it's because Lemmens said the same thing about his team heading into last season, which turned into a year with several ups and downs.

"It was a long year until the end when guys started putting it together," he said. "We've got to play good, team basketball, we've got to take pride in those things. We just need to improve on what we were not that good at last year."

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at jeremy@rivernewsonline.com.





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