BY Josh VanDyke
After claiming a share of the O-K Red Conference title during the 2015-16 season and adding a 15-win season last winter, the excitement surrounding the Grand Haven boys basketball program has grown exponentially in just a few years.
In fact, third-year head coach Greg Immink had a difficult time trimming the varsity roster down to a reasonable number this preseason, something that he sees as a positive sign for the future.
“We had about 22 kids come out for tryouts this year, which is higher than it’s been since I’ve been here,” he said. “It made tryouts pretty intense for a few days, but it also shows you that the kids at this school and the community at large care about basketball and that’s only going to continue to create a culture that supports growth for our program.”
The Buccaneers will need to grow rapidly in both experience and height this season, as the team lost four senior starters in Zac Holman (6-foot-4), Ross Koella (6-7), Drew VanAndel (6-5) and Clay Landsman (6-2).
WHO IS BACK
The Buccaneers do return last year’s starting point guard in junior Cam Constant, as well as key contributors like seniors Kellum Bridgeforth and Malic Love. Junior guard Bryce Taylor and senior guard Dimitrius Neely will also be called upon for a bigger role after logging key minutes last season.
Senior center Charlie Brown and senior guard Tucker Beland add experience to key positions that are otherwise filled with newcomers.
“We lost a lot of our size from last year’s team,” added Immink. “The last two senior classes were blessed with a lot of size and that’s something we don’t have a ton of right now. We do have some kids coming up from the junior varsity team with some size, but we clearly aren’t as big as we’ve been in the past.
“Game to game, we might make some adjustments to our style of play depending on what our strengths might be against an opponent’s weakness, but we don’t want to completely change who we are just because we don’t have a bunch of 6-4, 6-5 guys out there all the time.”
In order to make a successful transition to a smaller, quicker lineup; the Buccaneers will need improvement across the board.
“It can’t just be one guy stepping up this year — we need everyone to take that next step, especially the guys who played at the varsity level last season,” Immink continued. “We also need guys who were role players last year or bench guys to take that next step and be bigger contributors off the bench this year.
“I think early on in the season, we are going to have to rely on some of the guys with varsity playing experience and Kellum is one of those guys. Cam, Malic, Dimitrius and Bryce Taylor are guys that will also be counted on to give us that early lift.”
WHAT IS NEW
The Buccaneers will be bringing in plenty of talent from a junior varsity team that features a plethora of size and athleticism.
Juniors Jon Elias (6-6), Owen Bitner (6-3), Trevor Holleman (6-3) and Mason Mahacek (6-0), along with sophomores Adam Strom (6-3), Owen Ross (6-4) and Andrew Sinke (6-1) should bring a much-needed influx of height to the roster.
“All of those guys have a chance to contribute in some way or another,” Immink said. “It’s difficult to say right now who is going to be leaned on as a major contributor from that group, but as we get deeper into our scrimmages and first few games, we’ll figure out our rotation more, and we can see who shines when the lights are on.”
The biggest change this year will be the in the leadership department, as the team will need new leaders to emerge.
“It’s a new look. Guys who deferred to the older guys the last few years need to step up now and make it their team this year because it is their team,” Immink continued. “The upperclassmen need to show up with that fire and hold others accountable. That’s what good leaders do. I think we have good leadership from our upperclassmen, and I think guys like Kellum and Malic will step up to that role.”
WHAT TO EXPECT
Don’t expect Grand Haven to make wholesale changes to the way they play basketball just because of the personnel turnover. This squad will hang its hat on defense, like in recent seasons, but they will need to take advantage of their collective speed to counter the fact that they don’t have a ton of tall, experienced players to throw in the post.
In the O-K Red Conference, last year’s champion — the West Ottawa Panthers — return four of their five starters from last year’s squad, making them the odds-on favorite to repeat as league champs.
However, life in the O-K Red Conference is always a battle of attrition and Immink doesn’t see any reason why the Buccaneers can’t put themselves in the mix.
“West Ottawa is probably still the team to beat,” he said. “They lost (Jake) VanTubbergen from last year’s squad, but they return their four other starters. East Kentwood had a ton of young guys that played a lot of minutes last year, so I expect them to improve a lot this year. Hudsonville and Rockford always have solid teams that play tough defense, Grandville should be improved and Caledonia gained a lot of experience after their first year in the O-K Red.
“This league is always tough. It’s some of the biggest schools in West Michigan and there isn’t much room for rebuilding when you’re going up against quality programs like that. We know if we can continue to improve early on in the season and establish ourselves in time for the conference slate, we can compete.
“It’s going to be a transition, but this team is young, and we have a lot of potential. If we can put the pieces together right, the guys are willing to work hard every day at practice and learn, we could be a pretty good team.”
Courtesy photo/ Geskus Photography: The 2017-18 Grand Haven boys varsity basketball team. Front row (left to right): Tucker Beland, Adam Strom, Charlie Brown, Trevor Holleman, Malic Love, Jon Elias, Owen Bitner and Kellum Bridgeforth. Back row (left to right): Assistant coach Josh Walters, Dimitrius Neely, Mason Mahacek, Andrew Sinke, Owen Ross, Collin Takas, Bryce Taylor, Cam Constant and head coach Greg Immink.