Rangers return most of starting lineupNovember 20, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
FERDINAND — Forest Park boys basketball coach David Welp likes the effort his players have given since practice began, but noted a few things have needed to be shored up — especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’ve got to continue consistently be in our help side positioning, and then from there, closing off driving gaps,” Welp said. “We just got to make sure that we’re making it tough for the offense for any easy shots. And I think our guys have got to understand what we’re trying to eliminate and what we’re allowing offenses to have.”
The Rangers will return a season lineup — four of their five starters are back from a year ago in juniors Drew Howard and Landon Nalley, and also seniors Wade Leonard and Simon Jacob. Howard earned a selection last year on the All-Pocket Athletic Conference team. He had a team-high 80 assists for a Rangers squad that went 15-9.
“I look for him to continue to look for his teammates,” he said of Howard. “I think he can create off the dribble, and he can finish at the rim. He can also open up his shooting for his teammates as well because he drives so well.”
Welp is counting on Howard and Leonard to be his backcourt this year, while Jacob, who shot a team-best 78 percent from the free throw line, will play the small forward position. He’s looking to Nalley to be in his front court at the power forward slot, and he shot a team-best 39 percent from beyond the arc last season.
New to the starting lineup this year will be senior big man Blake Hagedorn, who stepped up in some games as a scorer last year, and will have a larger role this season.
“I think he earned it this summer,” Welp said of Hagedorn. “He played a lot of basketball with DistinXion (an AAU club). I felt like he was playing every day this summer, whether it was up at DistinXion or playing on our open gyms. He got into the weight room, and I felt like he improved shooting the basketball from outside, but also with his back to the basket posting up.”
One big hole the Rangers will have to fill is the graduation of Isaac Uebelhor, who did so much as a senior last year. Uebelhor was named the team’s MVP — having the highest field goal percentage at 59 percent, was the team’s leading rebounder with 152 boards, had the most blocked shots at 17, had 52 steals and 62 deflections as an All-PAC selection.
Welp called Uebelhor a “special athlete,” and Forest Park will look for all of its players to collectively do something that Uebelhor did last year. Working together as a team, Welp said, can lead to success.
The third-year coach of the Rangers feels good about the five starters he’s rolling out there, but one big challenge is bench depth — which they are still trying to work on, but some of their bench players have their positives.
Welp likes senior Collin Rothgerber’s ability to step up on defense, and is looking to junior Kaden Bowman and sophomore Clayton Weisheit to relieve Hagedorn in the post. Junior Cooper Uebelhor also got varsity time last year.
“He’s got to just do his job — play his role,” Welp said of Cooper. “And that’s we’re looking for for anybody off the bench, and that’s just to play their role — whether that’s to come in to rebound the basketball, play solid defense, set screens, just do the dirty things — things that help us win ballgames. Because we’re looking for guys who can play, and occasionally hit open jumpers.”
Welp told the Herald that the Rangers will be less structured this year, and that they’ll be able to play and play well together. Forest Park is looking to create more of a motion offense to get the team moving without the basketball.
The Pocket Athletic Conference has expanded this year, and Forest Park has had to drop some teams to add Princeton and Mount Vernon (Posey). Welp found it unfortunate that the Rangers had to drop some previous opponents, but is excited to play new teams this year.
Forest Park is set to open the season Wednesday at Crawford County. The Rangers have opened against the Wolfpack every year dating back to the 2009-10 season, and escaped last year with a 53-51 win at home.
“We’re going to have to bring the physicality,” Welp said. “Crawford County’s a very physical team. The past two games, the past two seasons, have been decided by two points. And so it comes down to every single possession matters, and making sure that we take care of the basketball, take high percentage shots (and) maximizing our possessions.”
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