Over the years, the Ottawa boys basketball program has been a successful one. Much of that has to do with finding a winning system and sticking to it.
Pirates head coach Mark Cooper, who begins his 19th season, has long had a solid plan year in and year out for how he wants his team play, and the over 300 wins in his tenure is a good indicator the plan works.
“We’ve had a blueprint we have followed for a long time as far as what we want this program to look like,” Cooper said. “We aren’t going to vary off that much. As a coach, you will always have to make some changes due to the kids you have that particular season, but I don’t think or believe you can completely change what you’re about every year and expect to have sustained success.
“We are going to stick to the formula we’ve had for a while now, but make adjustments if we feel we need to.”
Ottawa finished last season with a 17-11 overall record and ended 10-4 — good for a tie for second place with Kaneland behind champion Rochelle — after a run through a rugged Intestate 8 Conference slate. The Pirates reached the Class 3A Rock Island Regional championship game before falling there to the host Rocks.
Cooper will look to replace nine seniors from graduation, including top-three scorers Anthony Miller, Braiden Miller and Luke Cushing.
“We’ve always been a program that is senior dominated,” Cooper said. “We have seven seniors this year that worked very hard last year as juniors on a daily basis and paid their dues a little bit. So now it’s their time to lead the program.
“We return three seniors that saw a significant amount of playing time in Payton Knoll (6-4), Trace Roether (6-3) and Levi Sheehan (5-11). They have the experience coming back, so now it’s just a matter of how everything fits together with the seniors and the juniors.
“Basketball is a hard game, and practice to start any season is hard as well, but I feel like we had a very good first week or so of practice.”
The Pirates’ roster rounds out with seniors Conner Price (6-0), Aiden Mucci (6-0), Jonathan Cooper (6-2) and Matt Haerle (6-2), as well as juniors Huston Hart (5-10), Keevon Peterson (5-10), Drake Kaufman (5-11), Lucas Goetz (6-3), Jack Henson (6-3), Garrett Shymanski (6-2) and Cooper Knoll (6-6).
“The beginning of the year will be a lot about us figuring out our depth while also finding out who plays well together,” Coach Cooper said. “I’m guessing like most teams, we are still a week or so into practice trying to figure all that out. I think most years that kind of organically develops over time and when we start playing against other teams.
“There will be combinations we put on the floor that will have a different style of play than others. I think the Thanksgiving tournament, getting those four games in a short amount of time, will give us a better understanding of all that.”
Ottawa begins pool play at its own Dean Riley “Shootin’ The Rock” Thanksgiving Tournament on Monday, Nov. 21, in historic Kingman Gym, taking on Marengo before challenging Thornridge (which takes the spot vacated by Dixon) and finally Pontiac. The place games will be held Saturday.
“Our tournament has always been filled with quality teams, and that allows us to really find out exactly where we are at quickly,” Coach Cooper said. “Those games against really good teams to start the season will show your weaknesses, but that then allows you to focus on those and get them corrected.”