By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
In the 2001-02 season, the Mankato East boys basketball program was hit hard by a graduation and won just 10 games. In the 2008-09 season, graduation took its toll again, winning only five games.
There have been seasons when East coach Joe Madson had to patch some pretty large holes, due to graduation, but this season, he’s nearly starting from scratch.
“I don’t remember ever having a season where we didn’t have at least one starter returning,” Madson said. “We have some seniors, but we don’t have many players who have played varsity basketball.”
The Cougars, who advanced to the state tournament last season with a 25-5 record, open the season Tuesday with a nonconference game at New Ulm. The Cougars lost their top eight players from 2011-12, taking along 91 percent of the points and 93 percent of the rebounds.
“We’re going to have to fill some pretty big shoes,” senior guard Jordan Grams said. “Last year, we were really good. We just have to try our hardest and practice hard and keep trying to get better.”
The only senior who saw significant playing time was co-captain Yasin Omar, a guard who averaged 4.9 points and made 32 3-pointers. Madson said that Omar looked good in a preseason scrimmage on Saturday.
“I think he made five (3-pointers) in about two minutes,” Madson said. “The Fairmont kid just looked like there was nothing he could do. He’s a great shooter. He just has to learn to play with the other players and stay out of foul trouble.”
Other seniors on the team are Grams, guard Abdi Ali, forward Brandon Adema and center Walabu Bati
East will need some help from juniors Brock Margenthaler and Matt Bornholdt and sophomores Nic Seiler and Mattu Chuol.
Madson said the biggest weakness he sees early in practice is the lack of size. East has had some pretty good centers lately, such as Sam Onsomu and Brody Ziegler, but may have to employ some creative offensive and defensive schemes to get production from the post.
“Right now, we don’t have a guy that you can throw the ball into, and he’ll go get you a bucket,” Madson said. “Hopefully, somebody will develop that as we go along.”
Grams said that the Cougars are unlikely to average 67 points, as they did last season. Defense and ball security will be important to keep the games close.
“We’ve got some shooters,” Grams said. “We need to play strong defense and limit turnovers. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
Madson said it’s important that his team have some success early to build confidence. He’s pretty sure he has one scorer, but a one-person team is pretty easy to defend.
“These kids want to get better, and they’re coachable,” Madson said. “We just need to build some confidence.”
Grams wasn’t around for the rebuilding jobs in 2001 and 2008 so he doesn’t want to hear about struggles.
“We all have high hopes,” he said. “You can’t go into a season thinking you’re going to lose, or you’ll be a loser. I think it’s going to be interesting, and I’m excited for this year.”