Card boys' basketball: Better with time
Six games into the season, the Alexandria boys' basketball team is starting to figure out how all its pieces fit together.
The Cardinals came in with a roster filled with players who had to get used to the varsity level. That inexperience showed through the first two games as Alexandria lost by a combined 34 points against Moorhead and Rocori, two teams that are a combined 10-4 so far.
The Cardinals have continued to grow since then. They improved to 3-1 in their last four games after a 67-65 overtime win against Red Wing last Wednesday night. With every game, this team is developing the confidence it needs to compete on a nightly basis.
"I think we have grown quite a bit," head coach Forrest Witt said after his team made enough plays down the stretch to beat the Wingers. "To say we couldn't have done that early in the season? I think it would have been much tougher. I think we have come a long ways. The guys understand each other's roles and what they're capable of and how to use each other on the court."
A learning curve to start the season was expected for a team that lost seven letter winners to graduation. The Cardinals needed guys who had seen sporadic minutes as sophomores and juniors to step into expanded roles. That seldom comes without some growing pains.
"I'm not going to lie, the first game I was nervous as all get-out," Logan Doyle said. "I had butterflies and everything, but it was all of ours' first start. The first two games when we lost by quite a bit, those were by far the best two teams we played this year. I think now we are starting to settle down."
Doyle has been a prime example of that. The 6'7" junior has averaged 17.3 points per night in the last three games. He was one of three players in double figures against Red Wing with 16 points. Senior guards Austin Storm and Jordan Smith added 18 and 11 points, respectively. AJ Anderson had eight, while David Krivanek came off the bench and had five important points in the second half.
The Cardinals know they need those kinds of contributions from up and down the lineup. This team doesn't have a guy who is a threat to go off for 30 points every night. Their progression as a team has started to show as the players have begun to trust each other on the court.
"We're more about the team right now," Smith said of where this group has made its biggest improvement. "We're not selfish anymore. We're getting a lot better with that."
Smith exhibited that approach after scoring eight of his 11 points in overtime to lead Alexandria to the win over Red Wing. He credited Storm's hot night shooting the ball for him getting open looks.
Smith knocked them down as he drained two big threes that turned a two-point deficit into a one-point lead each time. Those kinds of plays down the stretch show the growth that Witt was hoping for out of his team.
"Anytime you can win a close game it's big," he said. "You find out a little about yourself and who's going to step up and who's going to get a key stop at a critical juncture."
One thing this team doesn't want to do is use its inexperience as a crutch. There is plenty of turnover every year in high school sports. It's on this next wave of players to make something of the opportunity in front of them.
"We lost pretty much all our starters and everything," Doyle said. "But [the coaches] have said that's not an excuse. Even though we don't have that much varsity experience, we have players that were ready for it, even though they didn't play. I think we definitely want to go far into the playoffs, and we all believe that we can."