It’s easy for someone watching the Alexandria boys basketball team from a distance to look at what the Cardinals lost in the offseason.
It started with graduating some solid seniors off a 19-9 team, including point guard Trey Hoepner who helped run the show for three years in Alexandria’s backcourt. Then came the transfer of junior Treyton Thompson, the 6-foot, 11-inch power forward who moved to La Porte, Ind. in the offseason to play for La Lumiere, a nationally-ranked prep school.
The players back for Alexandria know they enter this season with some questions to answer about how they will absorb those losses.
“I think we have something to prove,” junior guard Colton Roderick said from practice on Nov. 25. “Everyone is kind of doubting us, saying that we’re not going to be as good without Treyton. I think that we’re going to come out here and prove that we’re going to be just as good, if not better this year.”
Roderick called Thompson a big part of their team a year ago, but the Cardinals are confident that a new approach won’t necessarily mean taking a step back.
There’s no doubt that Alexandria will look different without Thompson in the middle. He is getting a lot of minutes for La Lumiere, which entered the season ranked No. 10 in the nation in the MaxPreps Preseason polls.
Thompson has college offers from Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Texas Tech and has taken a couple of official visits to Iowa and Minnesota this fall. He announced his decision to move from Alexandria this past summer, giving coaches for the Cardinals plenty of time to think about how they want this year’s team to play.
“You tweak your sets and your offenses and what you’re able to do,” Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. “Quite honestly, it provides our guards more of an opportunity to really flourish and play the brand of basketball that will benefit them. We’ll run a lot of five-out-motion where we open the floor and do some things with ball-screen action to get those guys freed up.”
The Cardinals know what they are with this group, and they’re going to play to that strength. Alexandria is fast. That was on display during practice in late November.
Roderick returns as a nearly 6-foot, 5-inch guard who poses problems for defenses with his size and quickness. He averaged nearly 10 points per game as a sophomore on 53% shooting, including a team-best 41% from three (32-of-77).
Senior Carrson Jones and sophomore Kristen Hoskins join Roderick in giving the Cardinals three experienced guards who all want to use speed to their advantage. Jones averaged nearly nine points per game last year, and Hoskins got a lot of minutes as a freshman. He’s also coming off a breakout sophomore season in football that he hopes carries over into the winter.
“With Carrson and Kristen and Colton, we have three guards who are as good as we’ve had,” Witt said. “We obviously want to create some space for them and open the floor to allow them to make plays. At the same time, we’re looking for depth and who that might be. I think we’ve had some guys who certainly have done good things and are evolving into some roles.”
Witt knows that this year’s rebounding and defense inside will have to be done by committee. Thompson’s length last year allowed him to clean up the glass and limit opposing team’s opportunities around the basket.
“Our post play will be different,” Witt said. “(Sophomore) Erik Hedstrom gives us a big body inside, and (senior) Ethan Patience will play at (power forward). We’re not going to have one guy who’s going to get 10, 12 rebounds. It’s going to be a collective thing. Defensively in the post, same thing.”
Witt said he likes the shooting ability of Patience at that power forward spot, and how the Cardinals can space the floor. He knows they will need to operate well in a halfcourt offense, but Alexandria wants to push the ball as much as it can to let the athletes on this team flourish.
“It could be really, really fun for us,” Roderick said. “We love running. We love getting up and down and we’re going to get a lot of shots up this year by just how quick we are. The faster the pace, the more shots we get.”
Learning from a tough loss
The Cardinals are excited to get this season going not only to show what they’re capable of, but because of how last season ended.
Alexandria looked well on its way to playing in the Section 8AAA championship game. The Cardinals led Sartell-St. Stephen by 11 points with four minutes left in their semifinal game before the Sabres scored 20 of the final 24 points to win 55-50.
“I think about it, but I look back on it as an experience,” Roderick said of that loss. “It’s something to learn from. I just learned that we have to push through the whole game. At halftime, we were up a lot, and we were kind of like, ‘We got this.’ We did a bad job of finishing it out, so we have to finish this year.”
Roderick spoke to the lesson that Witt wants all his guys to take from that game.
“You got to finish the game,” he said. “You got to finish the practice, you got to finish the play. We played so well in that game for 32 minutes, and then we just unfolded at the end. I think our guys know we had good ball handlers. We have good ball handlers this year. You just have to finish the deal, make the free throws, not turn the ball over.”
Witt said St. Cloud Apollo might be the favorite in the section on paper this season. Defending champion Bemidji and Sartell should also have good teams, but players and coaches for Alexandria are confident they will be right there in the mix again, as well.
“There’s a lot of good teams out there, but I think we put ourselves in year’s past, and this year too, to be in the mix to contend. That’s what you really want is an opportunity.”
2019-20 ALEXANDRIA BOYS BASKETBALL
SENIORS - Ethan Patience, Carrson Jones, Ryan Forster, Isaac McCoy; JUNIORS - Colton Roderick, Caleb Wendel, Brady McCoy; SOPHOMORES - Kristen Hoskins, Erik Hedstrom, Carter Steffensmeier, Wyatt Odland, Turner Haar, Will Heydt, Sam Peterson, Elijah Vanderveer
COACHES - Head coach - Forrest Witt; Assistant coaches - Tom Miller, Ty Granning, Nick Jansen, Jerry Witt, Zach Witt
ALEXANDRIA BOYS BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
Dec. 5 vs. Willmar, 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 6 vs. Big Lake, 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 10 vs. St. Cloud Tech, 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 12 vs. Rocori, 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 13 vs. Detroit Lakes, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 17 at St. Cloud Apollo, 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 19 at Sauk Rapids-Rice, 8 p.m.
Dec. 27 at St. Cloud State University, TBD
Dec. 28 at St. Cloud State University, TBD
Jan. 3 vs. Fergus Falls, 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 7 at Little Falls, 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 9 vs. Sartell, 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 11 at Bemidji, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 14 vs. Moorhead, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 16 at Detroit Lakes, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 17 at Brainerd, 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 28 at Willmar, 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 30 at St. Cloud Tech, 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 4 vs. Brainerd, 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 6 at Rocori, 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 11 vs. St. Cloud Apollo, 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 13 at Moorhead, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 14 at Fergus Falls, 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 18 at Sartell, 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 28 vs. Sauk Rapids-Rice, 7:15 p.m.
March 3 Section Quarterfinals, 7 p.m.