by John Unrein
Fourteen days of quarantine were erased with the Grain Valley Eagles Boys Basketball team completing their warmup by breaking down with the phrase “together.” Time was not wasted as the group hit the floor running on November 24th. A sense of urgency was apparent by the team under the direction of Eagles Boys Head Basketball Coach Andy Herbert, who was excited to work on building the foundation of fundamentals that has been delayed.
“Time the pass; it’s a big key to spacing. Don’t cheat your footwork, drive with the initial step, if you are guarded, then jab and cross over (as you approach from the wing),” Herbert said.
“Pivot towards me, reverse and then finish by making the basket,” Herbert would direct as his voice filled the gym encouraging his players.
The Eagles would start practice working on floor spacing, wing approach, transition off the inbound pass, and offensive sets from the top of the key with an emphasis on screens. Red faces and hands on knees did not find an abundance of comfort as score was kept on most timed drills done in practice to emphasize competition. Thus, the necessity of shaking off rust and getting into basketball shape.
Grain Valley’s first scheduled game of the season that was to take place in the Marshall Basketball Tournament on November 30th has been cancelled. Instead, the Eagles will see their first action on December 8th as they host the Pleasant Hill Roosters.
Expectations for metro area scholastic basketball teams are all over the place as a cloud of uncertainty during the current pandemic loom over the potential season.
“Expectations, your guess is as good as mine for a lot of obvious reasons. You look at the schedule and every day is like a snow day and you have the anticipation of whether the next game will happen,” Herbert said.
“As far as our roster goes, we have a lot of new faces that include guys who have been through this (a varsity season before). Trying to get them up to speed during a pandemic has it challenges.”
“The first tournament of the season being cancelled gives us some breathing room. The success of football and soccer as well with their seasons being lengthened has lessened the do overs that usually take place with the kids who have been here and those that arrive after the completion of their fall season.”
Herbert concluded, “Some players got some rest due to quarantine and if you look at it with rose colored glasses, things have worked out as good as can be expected. It’s like cramming for a final, you have to throw fundamentals at the kids and see how many of them stick through repetition. Shooting the basketball will be in the back seat for a while.”
This season will witness the Eagles varsity roster not being littered with players who were returning multiple year starters as the likes of Caden Matlon and Josh Kilpatrick have graduated. Current seniors Grain Valley will rely on include Keeton Maxon, John Haywood, Cole Keller, and Jayden Yung. Haywood will be manning the point guard position for the Eagles as the trio of Maxon, Keller, and Yung will be doing their work on the wing and in the paint.
“The last fourteen days have been boring. I am excited to be here and get to see everyone again,” Maxon said.
Haywood agreed. “I agree with Keeton, it has been boring. I have spent a lot of time outside at my goal shooting the basketball.”
Both Maxon and Haywood are focused on using the condensed time they have in practice to improve their collective games for the upcoming season.
“Rebounding is an area I want to improve in. It starts for me with boxing out and then being aggressive attacking the rim after I grab an offensive board,” Maxon said.
“I need to work on ball fakes and touch on my passes to my teammates in the post. I want to time my shots better to eliminate the chance of it being blocked.” Haywood said.
Grain Valley has posted back to back 16-11 winning records during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons. A boost for the team will no doubt be the return of a healthy Keller down low. The 6’ 5” 205 pound starting quarterback for the Eagles football team showed zero ill effects of the knee injury that ended his 2019 season on the gridiron. That has the potential for Keller returning to his aggressive ways on the board and finding ways to score in the post.
The quartet of Eagles seniors knows the task at hand and accepts the challenge that lies ahead. Herbert and his squad are eager to the get the season started.