Cards take 'strength in numbers' approach

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
C.J. Fermanich will be one of Middleton's top players this season./File photo

Kevin Bavery grabbed one sheet after another from the cluttered desk inside his second floor classroom.

Each piece of paper contained information about one of his Middleton boys basketball players. Heights, weights, years in school, etc.

And as Bavery — Middleton’s ninth year coach — looked over each sheet, he echoed a similar sentiment.

“Yep, he’ll play,” Bavery said — over and over and over.

Yes, grab your program and keep it close by this year. Bavery plans to play 10, 12, maybe even more players each night this winter.

Middleton, which opens its season Wednesday with a home game against Madison Edgewood at 7:30 p.m., doesn’t appear to have one or two stars like past years. But the Cardinals do have several players with somewhat similar skill levels.
So Bavery will take a “strength in numbers” approach, play a dozen kids on most nights, and hope that style leads to big things.

“I’d like to see 12 to 14 guys on the court most nights,” Bavery said. “We’ll have two or three guys at the table every minute or two getting ready to check in.

“When you line up and play the whole game, it’s natural to take plays off. Now, that should never be the case. Our players won’t be in the game long enough.”

Bavery admits there’s a mad scientist approach to all of this.

This won’t be quite as extreme as the offense Grinnell (Iowa) has made famous, where the Pioneers substitute five players at a time throughout the game. That same approach has been adopted by John Calipari and Kentucky this season.

Bavery’s substitution patterns won’t be as radical, but they’ll be close.

“When we identified our top seven or eight guys, there wasn’t really much of a difference,” Bavery said. “Then from about nine-to-12, or so, there’s a group where there isn’t much separation.

“Now, that doesn’t mean 10 or 12 players will get the same number of minutes. But we will play that many.”

In theory, there are plenty of positives to this approach.

Middleton, which might not have the star power at the top of its roster that some elite teams will, hopes to wear its opponents out. And by going deep into his bench every night, Bavery should have no problem keeping his team focused and motivated every second.

The major drawback is Middleton could have a hard time establishing chemistry by playing so many people. When one group gets rolling, they could be sitting moments later.

But Bavery spent the summer putting this plan into action, and can’t wait to see where it takes the 2014-’15 Cardinals.

“I know the guys were really excited about it this summer,” Bavery said. “We’re going to play fast, we’re going to play aggressive and we’re going to have fun.”

Middleton graduated its top six plays from a year ago, a group that accounted for 57 points per game.

The most experienced returnees are sophomore point guard C.J. Fermanich and senior center Ian Hokanson.

Fermanich played most of his freshman season with the varsity, averaged 4.2 points per game and developed into a steady reserve. His game has improved dramatically since the end of last season, and Bavery can’t wait to see what this year holds.

“C.J. is just so good,” Bavery gushed. “He got some experience last year and he’s a leader now. He has the ability to attack, shoot the three or find teammates. He’s really explosive.”

Hokanson, a three-year varsity player, has battled injuries in the past. But he’s an extremely skilled big man, is Middleton’s leading returning scorer (4.5) and could finally be ready to put it all together.

“He’s got a great skill set and he’s explosive,” Bavery said of Hokanson. “I just think he’s ready to take the junior to senior jump that so many kids take.”

Sophomore Tyree Eady is an extremely explosive wing player who could have an immediate impact.

“He has the potential to be our leading scorer one day,” Bavery said of Eady. “He’s very smooth.”

Seniors Andrew Gardner and Brett Joers saw limited playing time last year, but could be poised for big final seasons.

Junior guard Brady Thomas is a deadly outside shooter, while sophomore Storm Murphy is a true point guard who figures to provide immediate help.

Junior center Blake Sprecher is coming off a sensational boys volleyball season and has a lot of potential. Junior forward Cody Markel is returning from a torn ACL.

Senior guards Tyler Ballweg, Jordan Smith and Kellan Schulz, along with juniors Mitchell Bacon, Cam Maly and Kevin Ripp will all fight for minutes.

Others such as juniors Brennan Schmitt, Jacob Ross and Max Collien will battle for time, as well.

Bavery made the rare move of keeping 18 players this year, largely because of the way he wants to practice each day.

“It’s going to be all-out, all the time,” he said. “We want to be that team that no one wants to play. We want you to look down the schedule and say, ‘Oh no, we have Middleton coming up.’ ”

Right now, few people are probably saying that.

Middleton’s heavy graduation losses have left it as a complete unknown. And picked the Cardinals to finish sixth in the Big Eight.

Bavery isn’t worried about what others think, though. Instead, believes big things are possible for this team — and this style of play.

“There’s a reason they play the games,” Bavery said, when it was mentioned his team will be lightly regarded for now. “I definitely think we have the ability to surprise a lot of people.”


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