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Beat up Indians open vs. Derby

By Grant Guggisberg

At some point during the upcoming basketball season, Manhattan High head boys’ basketball coach Tim Brooks expects to have some decent depth when he looks to his bench.

Manhattan High point guard Alex Stitt dribbles past a defender during a home game last season at MHS. The Indians open the season Friday at home against Derby, beginning at 7:45 p.m.
(Manhattan High point guard Alex Stitt dribbles past a defender during a home game last season at MHS. The Indians open the season Friday at home against Derby, beginning at 7:45 p.m.)

When his team takes the court against Derby in Friday’s season opener, he won’t have that luxury. While many of his multi-sport athletes recover from the rigors of a long football season, Brooks will lean on his healthy players heavily during the first part of the season.

Three of Manhattan’s four seniors in Bret Fehr, Winston Dimel and Darian Taylor are either completely out or hampered by nagging injuries. Junior Chris Martin is also banged up, leaving the Indians shorthanded.

Among those that are healthy and saw extended minutes last year are point guard Alex Stitt and forward Payton Stephens.

In the case of Stitt, Brooks is pleased with the senior’s leadership after mostly playing behind Jonathon Taylor a year ago.

“The four seniors are going to give us solid leadership and they all bring something different to the table,” Brooks said. “Alex has really stepped forward and become a good leader at the point guard spot. He’s pretty versatile, and I think the other guys give us a lot of toughness.”

Stephens, only a junior, represents the highest-scoring player back from last year’s team, as well as it’s most dangerous threat in the post. After missing nearly half the season a year ago on the mend from an ACL tear, Stephens is back to 100 percent.

“He’s had a really good summer and has come a long way from his knee injury,” Brooks said. “I think people will realize that he’s a completely different player. Even though he came back last year when he was (medically) released, I still don’t think he trusted his knee, and I think now, there are absolutely no issues.”

Brooks said having an entire offseason to work on his game has transformed the junior, who started as a freshman.

“He’s so much more athletic than he was a year ago,” he said. “He’s developed into a person that can play on the wing, also, so he really worked hard at his game.”

Brooks also mentioned Pierson McAtee and Gabe Aubry as underclassmen who will see minutes.

“Pierson has come along way,” Brooks said. “He’s grown about three inches, he’s 6-foot-5 now, at least. He shoots the ball well from outside, but he can go down low and make a difference with his length. And Gabe, he’s a sophomore, has really stepped up and will see quality minutes.”

Offensively, Manhattan will look to do many of the same things it did last year, including a strong transition offense.

“I think because we’re going to be a decent rebounding team, we’ll get out and push the tempo a little bit,” Brooks said. “Our guys want to run — if we can make good decisions while we’re doing that, I’ll be OK with that.”

Defensively, Brooks is known for employing the 3-2 zone to catch opponents off guard, but will lean on his team’s man-to-man defense as long as foul trouble doesn’t force a switch.

“I think if we do start getting in foul trouble, we’ll have to do go to zone because of the lack of depth,” he said. “But our guys have really hung their hat on their man defense. A lot of it might have to be us adjusting to how the refs are calling the game, too.”

In opening the season at home against Derby, Manhattan gets a rematch with the team that ended its season a year ago in the sub-state final, as well as ended the football team’s season just three weeks ago.

After spending most of last season ranked and advancing to the state tournament, Derby will be tasked with replacing some of its best players, opening the season unranked by the KBCA.

“They lost a lot of seniors,” Brooks said. “Their point guard is back, and he really developed throughout the season last year. He was a sophomore, and the first time we played them, he was pretty apprehensive, and the sub-state final, he was a major factor in their victory. So he’s good, and (Jeremy) Dunham, their quarterback, will come and be steady, really quick and really strong. He shoots it pretty decent.”

Brooks said the Indians will try and get the ball inside.

“I don’t think they’re near as big as they were a year ago,” he said. “And we had success, even though they were bigger, we had success inside. So that’s going to be one of our things — we’ve got to get the ball inside the paint, whether it’s off penetration or a post move or whatever.”

Tip off for the season opener is scheduled for 7:45 p.m., but will follow the girls’ varsity game (6 p.m.) at Manhattan High.

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