A year ago, seniors Rafe King and Matt Nolan put the Carson Senators on their collective backs and carried the team into the regional finals.
The two stars are gone, and coach Carlos Mendeguia has the unenviable job of moving on without their instant offense.
“You don’t replace guys like Rafe and Matt,” said Mendeguia, whose team faces Heritage at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the Mad River Rotary Tournament in McKinleyville, Calif. “Those two played a lot of basketball, probably 1,000 games before high school.”
This year it will be up to guys who played complementary roles a year ago to step up and lead the team. Mendeguia has seven returners from last year’s team — wing Kyle Denning, forward Cameron Price, point guard Kyle Steele, guard Dilyn Rooker, forward-center Andy Cooper, forward-center Alan Cohen and small forward Austin Shaffer. Steele and Cohen both started a year ago. That group will be joined by guard Anthony Munoz, center Brandon Ruf, forward Garrett Schafer, point guard Jared Rooker, Ian Schulz , swingman Asa Carter and Gehrig Tucker. Schulz, Rooker and Carter are all sophomores. Mendeguia is currently carrying 14 players.
Ruf is the biggest player at 6-5, Cohen is 6-4, Price is 6-3, Schulz is 6-3 and Schafer is 6-3. Schafer played JV basketball as a sophomore. And, if you want muscle, you have the 6-1 230-pound Cooper.
“The difference between last year and this year is that we’re a little more athletic,” Mendeguia said. “We’re as big as we’ve ever been. I’d like to be able to get the ball inside more this year.
“I’m looking for Alan and Kyle to carry the load. Kyle is the point guard, but he can shoot the ball from the outside. Alan has a good inside-outside game. He can attack and get to the rim.
“Cameron missed a lot of time last year because of an injury, but I think he can complement Alan up front and he can go out and hit 2s. I expect Kyle to go in there and help out like he did last year. He was more of a defensive specialist last year. I’d like to see him handle a bigger role this year. The three sophomores could get a lot of time. Asa is a good athlete and one of the top players on the JV team last year. He has a shot to break into the line-up. Jared is skilled with the ball. Ian will help us inside. Dylan is very physical.”
The Senators were originally scheduled to open last night at home against Reno, but the Senators asked Reno to reschedule the game because Carson had so many football players on its team and wouldn’t have time to prepare. The game has now been moved to Dec. 23 at 5 p.m.
“That gives us a little time to come together as a team,” Mendeguia said. “We’ll play different combinations (at the tournament this week) so we can see how kids do in different situations. That will tell you a lot about how somebody will do at this level. This group has worked very hard so far.”
The Senators’ athleticism will enable Mendeguia to play at a faster pace. He won’t have to be content to play half-court defense. He’ll be able to press and play more of an up-tempo type of game.
“We’ll be able to do different things defensively,” Mendeguia said.
One thing is certain, Carson is not going to surprise anybody after last season’s run in the playoffs.
“We took the underdog role into every game,” Mendeguia said. “Every game this year we’re going to be the hunted instead of the hunter. Teams know we’re capable of upsetting (better) teams. Last year it was a season-long thing. We had a lot of young kids and they deferred to the seniors last year. Now they know when it’s their time to step up.”
“Reed, Reno and Manogue are the top three teams. Manogue returns all five starters. Reed could very well have the league MVP in Trae Wells. You can’t overlook Douglas. They have a 6-10 guy coming back plus a couple of other good players, and their JV team was solid. Galena lost a lot (of seniors), but they have a lot of guys out this year.”