A year later, the Cody boys basketball team feels more mature, more ready, and also anxious for some revenge.
Last season, the Broncs moved into 4A at the same time seven of the top eight players graduated. It was not a recipe for instant success. The squad finished 4-18, though it was playing its best ball at the end of the season.
This year the players are seasoned, there’s considerable experience returning, and rather than facing new circumstances just about every time they go on the road, they have been around the block.
“We have a lot of good seniors,” said Tristan Blatt, who is one of them, “a lot of leaders. We know what we need to do now.”
Last season guard Elijah Leyva, now redshirting at Northwest College, led the state in scoring. He was the only returnee. The current seniors did a lot of learning on the job and they are much more used to their roles.
“Most of us played a lot last year,” said Hunter Hays. “It makes us a lot more comfortable.”
Hays said he grew from 6-foot-1 to 6-3 and feels that will make him a more powerful rebounder.
“I got taller,” Hays boasted.
Leyva brought long range to the backcourt. A step or two inside half-court and he was liable to throw up a three-pointer. He made enough of them to turn in several games of 25-plus points.
Coach Jacob Kraft expects the Broncs to display more diversified scoring for the 2019-20 season, which opens with games Dec. 12-14 at the Gillette Tournament.
“I think we will have several players with eight points or so a game,” Kraft said.
Although he tried to downplay the move into the big-school classification last year, Kraft admits the new and tougher opponents made for a distinct obstacle at the same time four starters were breaking in.
On the first day of pre-season practice in Sweitzer Gym in late November, Kraft had 38 players signed up, 16 of them freshmen after a year short on such newcomers. He had to cut players, but in addition to his core group of seniors, Kraft will have underclassmen on the varsity.
“Numbers are not an issue,” Kraft said. “We were so raw last year. This year we line up more balanced. We have that other year under our belt.”
This group of seniors have been together for years, through middle school, when Kraft coached them there, as well.
“I’ve been with this senior class since they were in seventh grade,” Kraft said.
Center Duncan Radakovich noted the same thing.
“I’ve been playing with these guys since grade school,” Radakovich said. “I think we can be really good. We’ve got the chemistry.”
Several of the key players on the basketball team were teammates on the state semi-final football team, Radakovich, Blatt and Hays, among them. They completed their football season on a Friday and were shooting around within two days, trying to refresh their skills in another sport.
Point guard Coy Novakovich did not play football, but played as much basketball as he could in the fall after attending a basketball camp at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., over the summer. During some of the drills Kraft supervised in early practice, Novakovich finished them off with three-point shots.
Blatt said the adjustment from football to basketball will come quickly. He just completed a season as an All-State defensive back. He said he has to get in the groove of playing defense now without tackling anyone.
“It’s kind of hard the first couple of weeks,” Blatt said. “My first three games last year I fouled out.”
As far as the Broncs are concerned, last year can stay in the rearview mirror.
“We have a ton more experience than we did last year,” said Jackson Davis. “We just weren’t ready for 4A.”
Davis said he played hoops whenever he could, pick-up games, shooting by himself, at the high school or the Rec Center.
“I’ve got to slow myself down and become a spot-up shooter,” he said.
The Broncs definitely offer opportunities for outside shooters this year.