NewsTribune boys basketball preview capsules for the 2023-24 season

Princeton looks to reload; Fieldcrest hopes to build on 23-win season

Mendota’s Izaiah Nanez pulls down a rebound against Newman Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.


Coach: Steve Wasmer

Last season’s record: 9-23, 3-9 Three Rivers East

Top returning players: Izaiah Nanez, sr., F; Cale Strouss, sr., G; Owen Aughenbaugh, sr., G; Jace Baird, sr., F; Logan Dewey, sr., F

Top newcomers: Braiden Freeman, jr., F; Dom Richey, jr., G; Cam Kelly, jr., G; Aden Tillman, so., G; Dane Doyle, so., F; Alex Beetz, so., G

Worth noting: The Trojans lost NewsTribune All-Area second-teamer Rafa Romero to graduation, but they do return a solid core and add solid newcomers. “We have a much deeper team than we’ve had in the past couple of years,” Wasmer said. “We will be comfortable playing 9-11 guys.” Nanez was all-conference after averaging 11 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game last year. Strouss will provide shooting after making 38 3-pointers and averaging 10 points last year. Nanez, Strouss and Tillman are all capable of scoring 20 points on a given night, Wasmer said, while Baird can shoot or take the ball to the basket. “I think we have a very good shooting team. We have a lot of guys who can score and a lot of interchangeable parts,” Wasmer said. “We lost a tremendous defender (in Romero), so finding the defensive intensity and rebounding he provided is going to be a challenge. We will pressure the ball a little bit more. We are small so we will have to be able to create some turnovers.” Wasmer said the Trojans hope to have a winning record and advance in the postseason. “I think making the regional championship game would be a big step for the program,” Wasmer said. “We’ve been a lot more competitive the last couple of years. Now we need to take the next step and learn how to win some of these close games.”


Coach: Jason Smith

Last season’s record: 32-3, 12-0 Three Rivers East

Top returning players: Noah LaPorte, jr., G; Korte Lawson, sr., G; Jordan Reinhardt, jr., G; Tyson Phillips, sr., G; Evan Driscoll, sr., G; Daniel Sousa, sr., F; Jimmy Starkey, sr., F; Landen Koning, sr., G/F

Worth noting: The Tigers lost their top two players – Grady Thompson, the program’s all-time leading scorer, and Teegan Davis – from last year’s team that tied the school record for wins, spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Class 2A poll and won a regional title. But Princeton returns Lawson and LaPorte along with Reinhardt, who was the leading scorer on the sophomore team last year and provided a spark for the varsity late in the season. Lawson is expected to score more after averaging 5.7 assists last year, while LaPorte will step into a leading role. Reinhardt will miss the first month or so after suffering a high ankle sprain in the football team’s quarterfinal game. “The boys are excited having their own identity and having something to prove,” coach Jason Smith said. “I think there’s a lot of people outside that doubt it, because they don’t think we can do what we did last year. Which we can’t. But I think we’ve got a pretty chance at being a pretty solid basketball team. I think the kids are ready to prove that.”

Bureau Valley

Coach: Jason Marquis

Last season’s record: 7-24, 2-10 Three Rivers East

Top returning players: Landon Hulsing, jr., F; Bryce Helms, jr., G; Elijah Endress, jr., G; Corban Chhim, sr., G; Jon Dybek, sr., F; Blake Erickson, sr., F

Top newcomers: Landen Birdsley, jr., G

Worth noting: With most of the roster back from last season, the Storm are looking to improve on last year’s seven-win season. “We bring back the vast majority of our game time minutes from last season,” Marquis said. “The kids worked hard to get bigger, faster and stronger and I believe they realize they should compete night in and night out when we play our best basketball.” Hulsing headlines the returning group after nearly averaging a double-double last season at 10.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Chhim (8 ppg) and Endress (7.2 ppg) were key offensive options for BV last year, while Helms set up his teammates with 2.5 assists per game. “We should be quicker and able to create some defensive pressure this season,” Marquis said. “With Hulsing down low, he fortifies our rebounding and gives us an interior presence. The big thing for this group is learning how to communicate effectively on the court and developing the sense of competitiveness and confidence to win close games.”


Coach: Trae Blumhorst

Last season’s record: 6-22, 2-8 Little Ten

Top returning players: Pancho Moreno, sr., G; Jonah Garcia, sr., F; Erick Perez, sr., G; Brock Coates, jr., C; Ramon Arevalo, jr., C; Vance Hayes, jr., F; Osvaldo Morales, jr., F; Luis Lopez, jr., G

Top newcomers: Martin Quintana, jr., F; Julian Lopez, so., G

Worth noting: Blumhorst has an experienced roster for his second season as the Little Giants only lost one player. Moreno averaged 11.7 points per game last year and Blumhorst expects him to average 15-20 this winter. “With a lot of explosiveness and speed and has the chance to see varsity minutes since he was a freshman, Pancho will lead the way for us,” Blumhorst said. “We should have a pretty balanced attack with Luis Lopez shooting and Vance Hayes, Osvaldo Morales, Martin Quintana, Jonah Garcia and Erick Perez with the ability to move off the ball, make smart plays and the ability to shoot. We have focused on working the ball through big men Brock Coates and Ramon Arevalo on the inside to help open up the floor.” Blumhorst expects the defense to be improved. “We have a lot of speed all around to be be able to rotate and run a lot of different defenses and just enough size to be able to be aggressive,” Blumhorst said. The Little Giants will look to improve on last year’s record. “We felt like we left quite a few wins on the table,” Blumhorst said. “Our bare minimum goal is to win 10 games, but we feel there is no reason why we can’t reach for 15-plus. We want to be playing high level basketball when it comes to February and be able to compete in any regional.”


Coach: Chance Blumhorst

Last season’s record: 8-18, 2-7 Little Ten

Key returners: Tyler Billhorn, jr., F, Ed Fry, jr., G, Brayden Klein, jr., G, Tate Sundberg, jr., G, Ian Sundberg, sr., F.

Key newcomers: Braden Fischer, fr., G, Jhett Cowser, fr., G, Wyatt File, fr., F

Worth noting: Blumhorst came aboard last year to put his own touch on the Lions’ program. He’s aiming to continue the process as the Lions work through the loss of graduated seniors like Eli Keighin (11.1 ppg) and Logan Dober (8.7 ppg). “We have high expectations this year. We lost a lot of scoring from our seniors last year, but we are very excited for our upperclassmen and newcomers. It will take some time as we will not have 4-5 football guys (who are on the Amboy co-op state team) until after Thanksgiving, but that will give our new faces a great opportunity to get some varsity experience,” Blumhorst said. Ian Sundberg returns (5.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and will be what Blumhorst describes as “our team leader and patroller of the paint on both ends.” Billhorn had a solid sophomore season, averaging 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds. Blumhorst said “our junior class is looking to come into their own and we’re very much looking forward to our new faces.”


Coach: Gerald Fruit

Last season’s record: 17-13, 7-2 Little Ten

Top returning players: Ryan Browder, sr.; Griffin Cook, sr.; Adam Waite, jr.; Trenton Fruit, sr.; Easton Fruit, jr.

Top newcomers: Carlos Gonzalez, sr.; Oliver Munoz, so.; Gavin Guelde, jr.

Worth noting: The Red Raiders have a solid returning core in Browder (13.9 ppg), Cook (12.8 ppg) and Waite (10.3 ppg, 11.4 rpg) along with Trenton and Easton Fruit. “We have more depth this year than in the past, this team has a good amount of experience and is a smart team,” Gerald Fruit said. “These kids are a self-motivated team and hard workers.” The Red Raiders look to improve defensively. “We did lose two really good defenders to graduation, but I believe with the maturity of our returning seniors that we can play strong defense and keep our average points allowed to under 47 points a game,” Gerald Fruit said.


Coach: Jeremy Hahn

Last season’s record: 23-9, 9-3 HOIC

Top returning players: Dallas Cook, sr., G; Nathan Cook, sr., G; Jozia Johnson, sr., G; Koltin Kearfott, sr., F; Connor Reichman, sr., G; Brady Ruestman, sr., G; Jordan Heider, jr., G; Ed Lorton, jr., G

Top newcomers: Kam Widmer, jr., F; Jackson Hakes, jr., C

Worth noting: The Knights had a turnaround season last year, improving from seven wins to 23 in Hahn’s first season and look to build on that with eight players returning who saw significant time last winter. “A deep roster will demand extraordinary team play and unselfishness as there is good basketball skill throughout the roster,” Hahn said. “Aggressive defense and efficient offense hopefully lead to a longer postseason run, a common goal among all in the program.” Ruestman (10.6 ppg, 3.1 apg), Lorton (6.3 ppg, 4 rpg, 2 apg), Nathan Cook (4.1 ppg, 2.4 apg) and Heider (4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.9 apg) all started 25 games or more, while Dallas Cook and Reichman also started some games. Ruestman was All-HOIC first team and Heider was HOIC All Defense. “Brady Ruestman took a big leap during his junior season and is expected to provide inside-out scoring and playmaking. He has tremendous vision and passing skill along with the ability to finish at the rim as well as shoot it at a 40% clip from behind the arc,” Hahn said. “Connor Reichman has developed into an elite shot maker from 3 and has improved immensely on defense and handling the ball. Ed Lorton is an aggressive playmaker with range and is a strong finisher. His improvement as a ball handler and distributor will be key. Jordan Heider has great command of an offense and is an elite athlete on defense. He is a stabilizing player who provides great leadership on the court. The Cook twins are savvy guards that can get streaky hot from 3 and are really good on-ball defenders.” Johnson and Koltin Kearfott were limited by injuries last season, but are expected to be key contributors this winter, while the junior class “brings length and versatility,” including Hakes and Widmer, who will provide size and frontcourt depth. Sophomores Kash Klenworth, Layton Gerdes and Braden Hahn could also see varsity time.


Coach: Randy Westerdahl

Last season’s record: 6-19, 1-7 Tri-County

Top returning players: Zach Barnes, sr., G; Carson Rowe, so., G; Preston Rowe, sr., G; Parker Krafft, sr., G; Nolan Dunshee, sr., F; Lance Kiesewetter, sr., G; Nico Yee, sr., G; Mason Guarnieri, sr., G

Top newcomers: Kaiden Wilson, jr., F; Tim Ehret, sr., F

Worth noting: The Mallards lost their top two scorers from last season, but bring back Krafft and the Rowe brothers, who all averaged between 5-7 points per game. Carson Rowe, Kiesewetter and Barnes are expected to have larger roles this season. “Our strength this year will be senior leadership,” Westerdahl said. “As always, our expectations are to play hard and be a physical basketball team.”