by Michael Smith
At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, the Grain Valley boys basketball team had trouble finding its identity.
With no one in the starting lineup that was taller than 6-foot-2, the Eagles had to run an offense that was heavily dependent on off-ball movement and screens to get shooters open as the team also lacked the ability to score on the dribble drive consistently.
About halfway through the season, head coach Andy Herbert found a formula of success on the offensive end when he inserted 6-foot-4 Rhylan Alcanter into the starting lineup and ran the offense through him.
Alcanter became a good post scorer for the Eagles and often drew double teams, which allowed shooters to get open on the perimeter, which led to a more successful offense.
Grain Valley hopes that will carry over into the 2022-23 season as it returns Alcanter and three other players who were a part of the rotation last season.
“I really like this group,” said Herbert, whose team finished last season 11-14. “They’re good kids and they gel together. They are all so unselfish. It’s not just about scoring points and winning games, they want to get better every day.”
Grain Valley lost two senior players to graduation and guard Keagan Hart, who is not playing basketball this season.
However, the Eagles still have a strong core coming back including sharp shooting guard Owen Herbert, a versatile swingman in Reece Troyer and Jake Richards, who has grown three inches and is expected to be a key part of the rotation.
“Most of us are returning and we know how to play with each other,” Alcanter said. “That’s going to help a lot. We have the leadership this year to finish games, which I think we struggled at last year.”
Some key newcomers joining the rotation include junior Stylz Blackmon, a 6-foot-4 forward that will bring some additional post scoring and rebounding for the Eagles alongside Alcanter. Herbert said Blackmon and Alcanter can play on the floor together as a big man duo because of their versatility and he can also stagger their minutes to make sure a big man is on the floor at all times.
“It’s going to help a lot because we have a lot of guys who can shoot it,” Owen Herbert said of having Blackmon and Alcanter in the rotation. “When you got guys down under the basket who can space the floor, it’s really tough to guard.”
Freshman guard Eli Herbert also should be a big part of Grain Valley’s team. Like his brother Owen, he is a strong 3-point shooter who has a quick and silky smooth release on his shot and is also a good ball handler who can operate as the team’s point guard.
“He definitely works on his shot,” Owen said of his brother. “He is definitely going to earn every minute he gets this year. Hopefully we can knock down some threes.”
Juniors Logan Marcum and Jack Schoen and seniors Brock Baker and Francisco Polola , a transfer from Argentina, figure to be a part of the rotation as well.
“Our new guys are fitting right in,” Alcanter said. “They are all shooters and playmakers. During (the University of Central Missouri) Tournament we really saw that. They got some minutes with the varsity players and it’s really paying off.”
With the personnel he has on the team, Andy Herbert said he expects to have a solid, all-around team that can shoot, score down low, get baskets on the dribble drive and play solid defense.
“This is the first day of practice for Rhylan and Stylz because they just got done playing football,” Herbert said. “The guys who were here before them played every position, including the post. It doesn’t matter what position these guys play. It’s, I am a basketball player not a point guard.”
“The versatility we have is something that will hopefully be an advantage for us.”
The team goal for this season is to win the Suburban White Conference title and district championship. That will be challenging, however, as Grain Valley’s district is loaded with good teams including Blue Springs and Columbia Rock Bridge.
“We play a lot of really good teams in our (regular season) schedule,” Owen Herbert said. “That will prepare us pretty well (for the playoffs).”
Grain Valley junior Stylz Blackmon goes up for a layup in practice Monday. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley junior Jack Schoen is expected to get some minutes in the rotation for the boys basketball team. Photo credit: Michael Smith