“We're going to be young and we're inexperienced when it comes to playing ball at the varsity level,” said Heny. “We're going to have to learn on the fly. We had kids that went with us this summer and got experience playing …
One year ago, the Powell Panthers made a spirited run up to the consolation championship at the 3A state basketball tournament in Casper. Months later, the memories and the trophy are about all that remain from that experience. New head coach Mike Heny is one of three new members of the boys basketball coaching staff (along with Waleryan Wisniewski and Chase Kistler). He inherits a team that returns just two players who saw any varsity court time for the Panthers during the 2008-2009 campaign.
“We're going to be young and we're inexperienced when it comes to playing ball at the varsity level,” said Heny. “We're going to have to learn on the fly. We had kids that went with us this summer and got experience playing together, but the emotions and the intensity of playing varsity basketball will all be new. We'll be learning that as a group, starting this Friday.”
In that regard, seniors David Starcevich and A.J. Anderson will be relied heavily upon for leadership. The tandem are the only members of last year's team to see varsity court time, but only Starcevich saw a significant number of minutes.
The Panthers also benefit from Brandon Moore, a senior transfer from the state of California. Although new to the Panthers' system, his court experience should provide Powell with a boost.
Regan Soloai and Billy Harshman are the only other seniors on the roster. Harshman sat out the sport during his junior season, but was a member of the Panthers' roster as a sophomore.
Juniors Zane Bushnell and Jacob Beuster are both expected to spend a great deal of time in the varsity rotation.
“Zane did a lot of work over the summer to improve his game,” said Heny. “Hopefully it'll help him be more effective this season at the varsity level.”
The remainder of what Heny foresees as being a likely eight or nine-man varsity rotation this season will likely come from the sophomore class. Of the 17 players on the sophomore-to-senior roster, nearly half are sophomores. While that total speaks to the youth and varsity inexperience of this year's squad, it does contain some good news.
“That class went 15-3 last year as freshmen,” notes Heny. “They're a scrappy, hard-nosed bunch that just plays the game the way I like to see it played, but obviously they're going to have to learn on the fly how to play the game at a varsity level.”
Learning is a word that Heny uses frequently when discussing the challenges facing the Panthers this season. With eight departed seniors from last year's roster and a trio of new coaches, the Panthers have spent many of their early practices absorbing new offensive sets and systems.
“We didn't make many changes on the defensive side, but we did install some new stuff offensively,” said Heny.
Given the overall youth movement of this year's team, fans shouldn't be surprised to learn that Panther basketball this season will likely be a work in progress. Expect changes throughout the year as coaches and players come to a greater understanding of each other.
“We've got a lot of new kids, and we need to figure out who's good at doing what on the floor and who is best-suited for particular situations,” said Heny. “This first tournament should give us a good feel for where we're at, but our challenge is finding the right roles for the right kids and getting the right combination of players on the floor. I couldn't tell you my starting lineup yet and it might be that we don't have the same starting lineup from night to night. It might be something we adjust based on who we're playing.”
While much has changed for the Panthers this season, the team's goals may strike a familiar chord with fans of the program.
“One of my key things is making sure that we get better every day,” said Heny. “My goal for every team is to get to state every year. We haven't sat down yet and said that we want to win this number of games or finish the conference in this position. We want to work hard and be in the mix for a seed at the regional tournament so that we can get our two wins and get to state.”
Among the 3A West, Heny predicts Worland, Jackson and Cody will likely provide the Panthers with their toughest tests. The Panthers tip off the 2009-2010 basketball season on Friday night with a 5 p.m. game in Cody. The Panthers also play at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.