By Brady Extin | The Times-Post
LAPEL — The 2022-23 season will usher in a slew of changes and new faces to the Lapel boys basketball program.
The Bulldogs will be under the leadership of their fourth head coach in the last three seasons.
In 2020-21 Lapel was coached by both Hall of Famer Jimmie Howell, and then after his departure, Justin Coomer for the remainder of the season. Last season, Tod Windlan led the Bulldogs to a 13-12 record, but his contract was not renewed.
Now, former Madison-Grant head coach Kevin Cherry takes the helm and hopes to steer the Lapel program in the right direction.
He’s liked what he’s seen in his first few months with the team.
“Things have gone really well. It was a little later in the summer that I was hired, but we got started right away,” Cherry said. “We had a really nice July. Our workouts this fall were really competitive and spirited.”
For Cherry, establishing his philosophies and identity will be key. And that all starts on the defensive end.
“Our identity is going to be at the defensive end. I think that’s where it really starts at with wanting to try and win at a high level,” Cherry said. “As we look back throughout the season, that’s what it will be about: How good were we able to get defensively? It will be an indicator to how well our season goes. Getting enough stops to win ball games is what it comes down to.”
Along with a new coach, the Bulldogs roster will also include many new faces after losing eight seniors to graduation, including two of their top three scorers in Landon Bair (9.5 points) and Corbin Renihan (8.1 points).
But while they lose a lot, they do return an array of freshmen and sophomores who played key minutes last season, along with senior Jaden Cash, who was on limited eligibility.
“We’re going to have some new faces, but some familiar ones, too, with some young kids that did play last year,” Cherry said.
“Regardless of how good of a player you were in middle school, that jump to high school and playing varsity basketball is a big one. Just the minutes they were able to play last year and being able to gain that experience is big. They’re young, but they have some experience,” Cherry said.
“One thing we talked about as a program is the expectation level isn’t different whether you’re a senior or freshman. We’re going to play to a standard, and we’re going to be great in our role. That’s just what it’s about for everyone in our program.”
That added experience from last season has Cherry excited about what guys like Brode Judge (10 points), Bode Judge (7.5 points) and Nick Witte (3.7 points) can bring to the table.
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“One of the things that they did last year was try and play 10 or 11 guys. We probably won’t have that type of rotation, but fortunately for us, some of our young kids played last year,” Cherry said. “We’ll rely on them heavily, but their roles will have to expand quite a bit this season. And based on what I saw in our workouts this summer, we certainly have that capability.”
Adding to that group will be a familiar face to Lapel fans, but a new face to the basketball program in freshman Devin Craig, who quaterbacked the football team this season.
“Devin came in this summer, and I thought he did a great job of earning his spot. His level of play as an incoming freshman was very good at times,” Cherry said. “There’s still mistakes that a freshman is going to make, but you just have to go through that learning process a little bit. You have to go through a learning curve of figuring out how to do things even though you might be undersized or not as physically mature yet. But he was really good this summer.”
With a young team, Cherry has begun stressing the importance of maintaining possession of the ball; that, along with defense, will be the Bulldogs’ keys to success this season.
“Being able to take care of the basketball and not turn it over, that’s going to be a big piece of our success. I expect teams to go out and pressure us, so something we’ve been working hard on is trying to play with poise and composure and trying to make the correct reads,” Cherry said. “We’ll get a great shot of where we are at the day after Thanksgiving against Anderson.”