Heading into the summer, the future of the Mitchell High School boys basketball program rests in the hands of its players.
Coach Todd Neuendorf and his staff have proven the ability to put the Kernels in the positions to be competitive each night, but it is now up to the players to secure wins on a consistent basis.
Mitchell has a talented core of players that have been tasked with returning the program to prominence at a far earlier age than anyone would prefer. Going 7-14 this season, that group took a big step toward the top. But this offseason, they should continue to make strides to make the long-awaited trip back to the state tournament.
For the first time in years, the Kernels have pieces that any team in the state would long to have.
Caden Hinker is one of the top scoring threats in the state, with his 17.1 points per game finishing second in the Eastern South Dakota Conference only to Yankton’s Matthew Mors (19.1). And as a sophomore, it is likely Hinker has yet to have shown his full repertoire.
Zane Alm also emerged during his junior campaign and anyone would be hard-pressed to find a better rim protector in Class AA with 2.2 blocks per game.
But more is needed. Mitchell was masterful at times with its half-court offense, with shooting 50 percent or better in seven games, including two games of more than 60 percent. Yet, the Kernels also shot fewer than 40 percent in seven games, with two of less than 30 percent.
While Neuendorf can often dial up a successful play in the half-court, there are times when talent must win and Mitchell lacked offensive skill and the ability to create points when a play breaks down -- both areas that fall on individual improvement.
The Kernels totaled 28 fewer 3-pointers and 28 fewer points off turnovers than their opponents this season, both of which could have been the difference in any of their eight single-digit losses.
Creating points in transition and easy baskets without a designed play is crucial for any winning basketball team and it is an area players can improve with offensive development and weight training during the offseason.
The Kernels had five full-time varsity players this season, and unsurprisingly, depth became an issue against the top Class AA teams, so continued development does not rest solely on the returning players, but the current junior varsity and middle schoolers as well.
Alm, Ben Helleloid and Lucas Moller become seniors next season and they remained committed since the first day of the Neuendorf era. Mitchell has a chance to snap its eight-year state tournament drought and anyone that can endure a 10-52 three-year record deserves a sublime ending.