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Building big men: Kernel coaches take extra care in low post development

Mitchell freshman Caden Hinker (20) turns the corner on Huron's Blake Cruse during a Nov. 8 game at the Corn Palace. (Nick Sabato / Republic)

The Mitchell High School boys basketball team has big plans in the coming years to climb out of the Class AA basement it has been trapped in for the last six years, and to do so, player development is crucial.

In particular, three underclassmen have been receiving special attention from the coaching staff. The Kernels have three players listed at 6-foot-6 or taller, with sophomores Zane Alm (6-7) and Ryley Johansen (6-6), along with freshman Caden Hinker (6-6).

Part of that special attention comes from a pair of assistant coaches with a number of similarities and familiarity. Chris Gubbrud is in his third season as an assistant at Mitchell after serving as the head coach at Bon Homme for a year, while Cole Knippling is in his first year with the Kernels after spending the last decade as the head coach at Elk Point-Jefferson.

Both were also former collegiate post players at Mount Marty College, where Gubbrud served as a graduate assistant during Knippling's freshman season. The experience and familiarity with one another allows the coaches to see eye-to-eye on the development of players.

"When you have three different guys saying the same thing, hopefully that will make them believe," Knippling said. "It's not what you teach, it's what you emphasize. If you have three guys all emphasizing the same thing, hopefully it will hit home a little better."

As more basketball teams continue to trend toward perimeter-oriented offenses, the traditional post player is often devalued, but it is still a rarity to have play three players with height and athleticism in high school basketball.

They also happen to play three different styles of basketball. Hinker, who leads Mitchell in scoring (17.3 per game) and 3-pointers made (13), is most comfortable playing on the perimeter and head coach Todd Neuendorf believes him to be the best outside shooter on the team. Johansen is ultra athletic and his best attribute is his jumping ability, while Alm, at 6-foot-7, is the longest of the trio and most likely to be a traditional big man.

"While we see there are three guys that are big, they're all distinctly different and they're all extremely vital to our success if we develop them with their own traits and abilities," Gubbrud said.

Many may think playing in the low post is an easy task for a taller player, but both Kernel coaches believe there is a specific science to the position. For a player with size, learning to use it as an advantage is often one of the biggest learning experiences for younger players.

Gubbrud, who stands 6-foot-11, often reminds his players that blocking every shot isn't feasible, while Knippling, who is 6-foot-4, stresses using leverage rather than always relying on length so a player can't easily be pushed off the block.

"The old maxim is that you can't teach size, but yes, you can, because some kids are 6-8 and play like they're 6-1," Gubbrud said. "You've got to teach kids how to use size to their advantage, but not get it in their head that they need to block everybody's shot. ... There's a lot of skill involved in playing the low post—defensively and offensively—and using your body positionally."

While all three players spend time in the post on offense and defense each game, the Mitchell coaching staff does not want to turn them into a cookie-cutter molded post player. Instead, they attempt to highlight the different strengths of each player.

Hinker, who has been relegated to the post purely based on his height at times during his young career, enjoys that he is often allowed to play the position that suits his skills the best.

"It's really nice that they give me the freedom to go inside and outside," he said. "It helps a lot."

The Kernels (0-4) play Yankton at 8 p.m. on Friday at the Corn Palace in the second day of the Hoop City Classic.

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