An experienced team led by a group that has played with each other since middle school, Creston boys basketball has added a young core to make a leap in the Hawkeye 10.
The Panthers are loaded with veteran leadership this season, boasting eight seniors in the 2021 class. This is the largest senior class since the 2016-17 season held 10.
Brance Baker and Colby Burg are returning as the No. 1 and No. 3 point scorers on the team from a year ago. Missing to begin the year due to injury will be the second-leading scorer, Cael Kralik.
Losing the outside threat in Kralik, head coach Bryce Schafer is expecting the Baker and Burg combination to come into play more this year.
“Colby Burg started as a freshman at 5-6, he’s now a full 6-0 tall. That’s going to be a matchup difference for us at the point guard position,” Schafer said. “Brance Baker is going to be what Brance Baker is, a crazy energy defensive player. He was the best shooter on our team last year and will continue to take that role on, the leading scorer.”
Expected to be out until February, the Panthers will look to a combination of Evan Bruce, Kyle Strider and the Baker, Burg guard combination to replace Kralik.
“The one who I think takes the biggest jump is Evan Bruce,” Schafer said. “Currently, in a week of practice, he is shooting around 70% from the 3-point arc in drills and scrimmage.”
Creston was a guard-heavy team a year ago, seeing significant playing time from one player over 6-2, Kaden Briggs.
He led the team in rebounds, grabbing 120 overall. Baker finished his junior year with 115 and Kralik grabbed 104 to round out the 100-rebound group.
Creston was last in the conference in rebounds last year, totaling 596.
This year, Schafer expects 6-6 Khalil Sherrod, 6-5 Avery Fuller and 6-1 Derek Paup to help Briggs down low, canceling the need to gang rebound.
The plan for Schafer, with the new height added to the varsity roster, is to use his bigs in the offense and on the glass.
“We’re going to be able to do more dynamic things with our guards because our bigs are able to challenge the paint more. That’s going to open a lot more things,” Schafer said. “We’re still going to be score-heavy from our guards because our best talent is at the guard position, but you’re going to see Khalil, Avery and Briggs. Probably at least two of those players are going to be in double-digits most nights.”
With so much seemingly set up for Creston to battle for a top spot in the conference after losing late leads or have close games slip away, the focus for the team is to get in the gym and get better every day.
Schafer, not wanting to set a specific bar, has high goals in mind, finally having “depth to continuously challenge every position.”
“As a staff, we understand that a Hawkeye 10 championship is something we’re looking for. We were close last year and we weren’t even playing really great ball,” Schafer said. “That is a milestone that I think we’re capable of getting to. I think this is a team that is solely capable of getting to top-8 in the state and anything can happen from there.
“I don’t see much of a ceiling for this group if we play the way we need to play,” Schafer added.
The boys begin their season with a scrimmage against Bedford at home 10 a.m. Saturday and kick off the regular season with a game on the road against Winterset at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30.