Todd Neuendorf is tired of sitting in the corner of the Mitchell High School gymnasium. He’s ready to jump into the mix and begin coaching.
On Monday, Neuendorf will be able to step into his element when the Kernels officially commence boys basketball practice, but since September, he has been relegated to sit idly by during open gym sessions.
South Dakota High School Activities Association rules prohibit Neuendorf from having contact with players in a practice setting, so he is forced to sit in the corner. He observes -- and sometimes cringes -- as his players play pick-up games, biding time until practices actually start.
“Now we kind of have everybody in the gym that’s going to be in the gym, so that part is good,” Neuendorf said. “But sitting on the side and watching is kind of boring. Next week we can get out there, start correcting and doing some stuff.”
In order to ease his anticipation, Neuendorf constantly pours over film during the offseason, seeking ways to improve, tweak or make adjustments according to the personnel available this winter.
And since Neuendorf cannot conduct practices yet, he found a loophole in the rule. Beginning Monday, former Kernel and Dakota Wesleyan University star Scott Morgan conducted optional practices for three days.
The two agreed upon skills and scenarios to cover, while Morgan had the freedom to teach his way. Neuendorf brought in another former DWU standout, Alan Miller, to do last season.
One of the areas Neuendorf has focused during his film study is how to defend the increase in use of ball screens. Morgan happens to share similar philosophies and teaching methods, so his presence gave Mitchell an early start.
“(Neuendorf) just ask me to come in and get the ball rolling, help them with a little defense,” Morgan said. “Just get a jump start on it and give the kids a little edge.”
Another adjustment will be pairing 6-foot-7 forward Zane Alm and 6-foot-6 forward Caden Hinker together on a regular basis, marking the first time since Neuendorf’s arrival that the Kernels will play two big men simultaneously.
But with two burgeoning post players, the 6-7 Morgan was able to offer some tips that made him a hall of fame scorer and rebounder during his playing days.
“I think they’re very athletic,” Morgan said. “I think they have what it takes, it’s just going to take some practice and repetition to get there.”
Morgan’s structured open gym sessions were not just a welcome addition for the coaching staff, but for the Kernel players as well. Early-season practices are often spent breaking bad habits developed in run-and-gun pick-up games.
And while players always enjoy freedom, they are also ready for the more rigid practices that come with the start of the season.
“Right now, it starts to get a little messy and you need a little organization,” Hinker said. “You need a coach to say a word or two. It’s a different feeling when you get into it than an open gym. You can tell everyone is locked in and getting ready for the first game.”