Boys High School Basketball: Manhattan vs Hayden

Manhattan boys head basketball coach Benji George runs through a play during a timeout in the game against Hayden in 2018 at Manhattan High School.

Benji George had high praise for his Manhattan High boys basketball team before the season even started. There’s eight seniors, the most he’s had in his 12 years coaching at the school, and a plethora of depth at nearly every position.

The Indians don’t have it easy, beginning their season against top competition at the Hays Shootout in Hays on Thursday, but he’s entering the season with an identity and options as opposed to searching for answers.

“It’s nice to know we have all those pieces,” George said. “I think where we really can have (an edge) is defensive rebounding. I think this team has a good chance at being one of the best defensive teams we’ve ever been around and coached. We were good last year at that, and I think we can be better.”

The Indians have scorers in Chandler Marks and Raeshon Riddick. Tyce Hoover and Tyler Higgins are tenacious rebounders. But a place of improvement George wanted to see from last season was perimeter shooting.

He’s got that now too in Peyton Weixelman, Brett Wilcoxson and Colton Sullivan.

George admitted that he always feels nervous about the start of a season. There’s only 12 practices until a tournament. But he reminds himself that everyone else is in the same boat, and he will know a whole lot more after the weekend, which starts for Manhattan against Great Bend at 8:15 p.m. Thursday.

“We know where our positions of depth are. We want all of those guys to get court time,” George said. “That will be something that comes out of Hays is figuring out rotations. Really, it will be coming back after Hays to get better piece by piece. That will help us check some boxes. Fortunately this year, we have eight seniors.”

George had to reset a bit after the 2018 season. It didn’t go as well as he or the team wanted, so he looked within the program to find answers. It’s history, both past and present. There are nine Manhattan players who went on to play college basketball. George said. That includes Trevor Hudgins, who dropped 27 points against Duke in a preseason exhibition on Oct. 26. George saw the depth of his team, with the leadership and skill sets, and saw there was a theme.

“We will start the year, we will take a look at what our season theme of ‘Juiced’ means,” George said. “Those former players dove on the floor, took charges and showed toughness. It will connect with our current players.”

There isn’t any true down time for George, even in the offseason. He does his best to relax and take his mind off basketball in between August and the end of September, but that’s tough. He has fond memories of the summer with his team already, though.

“We played this summer, and granted it’s completely different in the summer, but we went down to Tulsa and played some teams from Oklahoma and didn’t lose a game,” George said. “Then we played a little tournament in Junction City and didn’t lose a game. That was my goal from the summer: to get the confidence back from a year that didn’t go how we wanted it to. We accomplished that.”

The success was great for George and the morale of his team. The confidence has been reborn, he said. Having a good time in the process was a necessary bonus.

“We needed that, and we need to continue to do that through the season. It can get long and grueling,” George said. “We get to rediscover that intrinsic joy. The point is, part of the process needs to be fun.”