The Kalamazoo Cougars’ varsity boys basketball team enters the 2017-2018 season with a number of new faces, including their head coach. With only four returning players, two of whom are sophomores, the Cougars will be relying on its promising youth movement to grow up fast.
The Cougars are led by captains Isaac Geiger, a senior point guard who shoots the ball well from beyond the arc, and Pipo Hofstra, a sophomore forward with the ability to slash to the rim and defend any position. Their new head coach, Sam Gilbertson, believes that the success of this year’s team rides on his captains.
“We will need Isaac to set the tone offensively as the point guard and provide veteran leadership on the court,” said Gilbertson. “Pipo is a matchup nightmare due to his athleticism and energy. He can be a force on the rebounding end and should get a lot of shots in our offense.”
The other two returning players, Mike Janik (junior) and Elijah Kenitz (sophomore), are also expected to contribute in big ways this year. According to Gilbertson, “Mike and Elijah are our vocal leaders who give us a great defensive identity when they are on the court, and both of them can step up and impact the game offensively as well.”
After the four returners, the Cougars’ lineup is missing one critical quality: experience. However, Gilbertson has liked what he has seen from his young players so far. “A few of our guys have a confidence factor that is really impressive for their age and lack of varsity experience,” Gilbertson commented.
Leading the youth movement are Joshua McDonald (freshman) and Ty Rykse (8th grade), both of whom bypassed the junior varsity team and were promoted to the varsity roster by Gilbertson. McDonald is a talented scorer and Rykse is an athletic big man who can step out and cause issues for defenders. “We need both of those kids to step up in a big way this year,” said Gilbertson. Freshmen guards Logan Greer and Chris Staufer impressed the coaching staff enough during tryouts to also warrant early call-ups.
Other newcomers to the varsity squad are juniors Colt Logan, Caleb Staufer, and Lawton McCombs, as well as sophomore Demetrius McCombs. Gilbertson envisions Logan getting valuable minutes off the bench as a versatile guard/forward, while the 6’4” Staufer will be counted to provide a physical presence in the post and on the boards. Lawton and Demetrius McCombs are tough and tireless defenders who give Gilbertson the ability to increase pressure on opposing ballhandlers.
“We are a balanced team that should be able to compete in all aspects of the game, whether on the boards, in the post, or from the three,” he said. “Each of our guys has a unique skill set and right now, the challenge is putting those skill sets together for the success of the team as a whole.”
Helping Gilbertson make those coaching decisions are assistant coaches Barry DeYoung and Caleb Vanderhill. “I am eager to see how we improve as a team throughout the year. We are certainly a work in progress, but we are headed in the right direction,” says Gilbertson.
The tip off for the Cougars’ season is on November 18th, when the Cougars play conference opponents MCAC and KASH in Carson City during the annual Butternut Tournament. The first home game for the Cougars is against the Wyoming Warriors on November 21st at 7:30 p.m. Listen to that game live, along with the girls varsity matchup at 6:15 p.m. on the Slocum Sports Network.