BY Josh VanDyke
The Fruitport boys’ varsity basketball program endured a tumultuous season last winter, with the Trojans finishing winless at 0-21 and enduring some heartbreaking losses along the way.
The good news for the program is that every player on last year’s squad will be back again in 2017-18 with an added year of varsity experience on their resume.
The Trojans will have a new leader of the program in Steve Erny, who replaces former head coach Adam Anspach. In his first year with the program, Erny hopes to establish a team identity that revolves around effort and determination.
“Something that I think is important as a first-year coach is trying to establish a deep-rooted identity on the defensive side of the court,” he said. “I was able to take bits and pieces from my previous coaching experiences, and I hope to implement some of those things here as the head coach of a program.
“We want to be a tough-minded, defensive-oriented team. Offensively, we want to share the ball, move well in space and be fundamentally sound. That’s something we’ve been working on all summer and it really comes down to everyone just making the simple play and not trying to do too much out there. Basketball is a team sport and when one guy goes out there and thinks he can do more than he can, it breaks the whole team down.”
Everyone. The Trojans will return key contributors from last year’s squad, including seniors Cam Oleen, Aric Stewart, Brendan Kemme, Jordan Gilbert and Josh Gawlik. Also playing key minutes last year were sophomores Marcelo Conklin and Kaleb Conklin, as well as juniors Hunter Gannon and Austin Golden.
“Cam Oleen was one of the top players last year, and he’s a senior now, so he’ll have that sense of urgency, too,” said Erny. “He was a good leader last year, and he’s even better this time around. He’ll be a key player for us.
“Guys like Brendan Kemme, Josh Gawlik, and Arik Stewart are guys that I’m excited about, because they are seniors this year, and they experienced the way things went last year. There’s no one on the roster that wants to turn things around more than these seniors.
“Marcelo Conklin was sort of thrown into the fire last year, and he’s really shown tremendous improvement over the offseason. He’s worked on his game a lot, he’s always in the gym and he wants to get better. I think improvements by him are going to be really obvious to anyone that saw him play last year.”
Aside from having a new head coach running the show, Fruitport will also be adding three players to the roster this year in juniors Cam Schultz, Cole Hoffman, and Jay Thompson.
“We’ve had three kids that have transferred into our school, and now they’re involved, too,” Erny added. “That’s made practices more competitive and increases the level of competition every day. Kids that were starters last year aren’t guaranteed a starting spot on the team this year. That might not have been the case if we didn’t have new people come in, but now everything is a little more competitive and there’s a good energy around.
“Cameron Schultz was originally from Fruitport, and then he transferred out and is back at the school now. Cole Hoffman is from Mona Shores and Jay Thompson is from Oakridge. All three of those guys have shown some good things at practice and they will make our team better this year.”
WHAT TO EXPECT
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a basketball program. The Trojans aren’t going to magically go from a winless team to an unbeaten team in one offseason, but they will play an inspired brand of basketball with a mindset that focuses on effort and togetherness.
“This year, we’ve adopted a mantra that we talk about every day. Every game that we play, we want to be able to say that we played hard, we played smart and we played together. Those are the three things that we really want to focus on and that’s how we frame everything.
“We don’t talk about winning or losing; we just talk about framing our performance in those three categories of playing hard, playing smart and playing together. If we do that every day in practice and every game we play, we have a chance to be successful this season.”
While the team has some established contributors like Oleen and Stewart, the burden won’t fall on them alone this season. The Trojans will attack each contest with a gameplan of balancing the workload and finding contributors from across the roster in order to be successful.
“We don’t really have any established stars on our team; we just have a balanced group of players,” Erny said. “We just need everybody to take that next step in their development as players and hopefully some leaders will emerge from that.
“We have to play hard until the very end of the game and go hard at practice every day, too. It’s attention to details like how we start practices, how we perform in the middle of practice and how we end a practice that can make a big difference.”
The Trojans won’t catch any breaks within their own conference with teams like Muskegon, Mona Shores, Jenison and Grand Rapids Union appearing on their schedule twice. However, Fruitport plans to embrace the underdog role and compete at a high level, against top competition, in order to make themselves better in the long run.
“The O-K Black conference is tough. There are no easy games on the schedule, and we know that,” Erny continued. “At the same time, we can only control what we can control, and that’s with how we play. If we can meet our own expectations every day, play hard and compete for the whole game, every game; that’s only going to make us a better team come March.
“Wins may come or they may not come, but improvement is going to be evident this year.”
Tribune photo/Josh VanDyke: The 2017-18 Fruitport boys varsity basketball team. Front row (left to right): Cole Hoffman, Marcelo Conklin, Austin Golden, Cameron Oleen, Jordan Gilbert and Josh Gawlik. Back row (left to right): Jay Thompson, Kaleb Kreuger, Aric Stewart, Brendan Kemme, Cameron Schultz, Hunter Gannon and head coach Steve Erny.