The Mitchell High School boys basketball team had hopes of beginning a resurgence this season and those hopes were fortified after falling to Huron in a season-opening game that went down to the wire.
Since then, however, the Kernels have struggled mightily and start 2019 with an 0-6 record, dropping the last five losses coming by an average of 27 points per game.
Mitchell has not had an easy road thus far-Huron and Brandon Valley are among the top teams in Class AA-and Mountain Brook (Ala.) is one of the top teams in the nation, but Kernel head coach Todd Neuendorf has not been happy with the play of his team in the first quarter of the season.
"We are not at all pleased with where we're at and there are a lot of things that need to improve-things on the basketball court and off," Neuendorf said. "...We need to put them in positions to be successful, and maybe part of that is giving them too much latitude. Maybe we're going to just designate guys that are going to use certain skills on the floor. That might be what we have to do."
By defining roles, Mitchell hopes to limit errors in different areas of the game, while also taking some pressure off younger players in big spots.
Freshman Caden Hinker is the team's leading scorer with 15.3 points per game, while sophomore Ben Helleloid has been inserted into the starting lineup at point guard. Neuendorf wants his five upperclassmen-which accounted for 45 points in two Hoop City Classic games, 22 coming from Carter Jacobsen-to help compliment the younger guys.
"You look upon your seniors and juniors to lead by example," Neuendorf said. "When your leading scorer is a freshman and your point guard is a sophomore, that's a lot of pressure on those kids."
Many teams in such a position might turn to younger players in hopes of getting them varsity experience for the future, but Mitchell only has three seniors and two juniors on the roster. Neuendorf also doesn't want to rush the development of his underclassmen, which means playing them against opponents of similar age and skill at the sub-varsity level, rather than facing more mature juniors and seniors on varsity.
The Kernels do, however, want more contributions from the upperclassmen on the team in a variety of capacities.
"To fully develop, it's not fair to put (the underclassmen) out there. They should be playing at the freshman-sophomore level," Neuendorf said. "We have three freshmen on our varsity. ... At this level, you need some upperclassmen to take things by the horns and handle the situation."
The situations Mitchell needs most desperately to resolve are points in the paint and turnovers, which have a correlation. The Kernels have been outscored 236-88 in the paint this season, some of which can be attributed to 129 turnovers which resulted in an opposing layup or dunk.
In an attempt to quell turnover problems, Helleloid received his first start against then-USA Today No. 16 Mountain Brook, and while the Kernels sustained 33 turnovers, Helleloid accounted for just two and has 10 assists to seven turnovers on the season.
"He didn't come out of the basketball game and he handled the ball the whole time," Neuendorf said. "We've just got to get better. We went through a tough part of our schedule. It's not going to be easy now, but you can breathe a little bit."
Mitchell travels to Class AA No. 3 Huron at 7 p.m. today.