The Mitchell High School boys basketball team intends on delivering more blows than it takes this season.
After being battered in the paint -- and on the scoreboard -- last season, Kernel head coach Todd Neuendorf set out to establish a physical style of play and aggressive mentality on the opening day of practice on Monday.
Despite the first two days of practice serving as tryouts, Neuendorf and his coaching staff implemented a variety of drills aimed at scoring around the rim, and at one point, flat-out told his team that the majority of their points would be scored in the paint this season.
“We are going to establish ourselves in the paint,” Neuendorf said. “We have got to do that. We did shoot more free throws than our opponents last year and that’s something we want to continue. You don’t see a lot of it anymore, where you throw it inside and pound it in there -- that’s what we want to do.”
Mitchell, of course, saw improvements last season with nine losses of 10 points or fewer in a 2-19 campaign. The Kernels were young last season -- losing just three seniors from a year ago -- and it showed at various points.
They boasted three players 6-foot-6 or taller. But two were sophomores in Zane Alm and Ryley Johansen, and along freshman Caden Hinker, they were forced to guard bigger and stronger post players.
The disadvantage in strength and experience led to opponents shooting 60.2 percent near the rim. Meanwhile, opponents outshot Mitchell 496-358 at the rim, along with holding the Kernels to 55.3 percent shooting.
The change is welcoming to senior wing player Carter Jacobsen, whose slashing style helped Mitchell gain an advantage in free throw attempts, but he’s looking forward to some assistance from the big men.
“I’m hoping I won’t have to do as much of that, because the big guys can do it better,” Jacobsen said. “I hope I can just help people get open and do whatever it takes to win.”
The Kernels not only want to get the ball to their taller players, but they also want guards to get to the rim on drives, or on cuts to utilize the passing ability of post players.
Still, what was a disadvantage in the post last season hopes to become an advantage this season for Mitchell, which is going to rely heavily on Hinker, Alm and Johansen. All three were a focal point of the first practice.
They even impressed some members Dakota Wesleyan University men’s basketball team -- awaiting to take the court at the Christen Family Athletic Center -- with a dunking display near the end of the practice.
“For me this starts my 25th year of coaching and this is the first time I’ve had this many guys that can play above the rim,” Neuendorf said. “We’ve got four guys that can dunk the basketball easily. We told them, ‘If you have a dunk, wind it up.’ You’re going to see guys dunking in traffic, you’re going to see guys dunking in the half-court. … It feels good to have a little bit of that.”
Mitchell opens the season at Huron on Dec. 14.