Boys’ basketball begins quest to fourth straight conference title


Photo courtesy of Michael Stephen

From left to right: JaVary Germany, Malik Underwood, Justin Cross, Isaiah Barnes, and Kyren Gardner

Josh Hedrich, Staffer

The OPRF boys’ basketball season is almost underway as the Huskies will begin their season on the road when they play Morton Nov. 26. The team looks to back up three straight conference championships, however this could be a difficult task as the team graduated eight seniors last year, four of whom were starters.

However, head coach Matt Maloney doesn’t think there will be a lack of leadership on the team this year, as he believes seniors Justin Cross and  Kyren Gardner will step up and take on a leadership role this season.

“Justin Cross has been an unbelievable leader both this summer and this fall, he’s been one of the best leaders I’ve coached in my tenure here,” says Maloney. “Kyren Gardner, another senior, has just been a warrior. He leads by example, he’s tough, he’s hard nosed, and he’s got a no-quit attitude.”

Gardner himself is well aware of his current role on the team, stating his responsibilities this season include “Being a leader” and “setting an example for the younger guys on the team.”

Another thing Maloney was impressed with this offseason was the optional weight room sessions. “We have had the best offseason attendance in the weight room,” says Maloney. “These guys have dedicated themselves to improving their bodies and their work ethic. When you see that (weight room attendance), when it’s voluntary and not when it’s required, you know that you have a chance at being good.”

Despite losing eight seniors last year, Maloney doesn’t believe inexperience will be a problem for the team this year. “While on paper, people will see it as a year where there’s going to be inexperience,” says Maloney, “You will find a lot of guys that are playing this year played major minutes last year, were influential in our third straight conference championship, and had tremendous summers.”

The team played 30 games and three tournaments together over the summer, which junior guard Josh Smith believes will give the team an advantage going into the season. “We got to build chemistry over the summer, so heading into this season we already have a good feel for each other,” says Smith.

Maloney says he believes that building strong bonds between the players on his team will be important this season. He wants his players to care more about the team’s success than their own personal success. “You got to have people who truly believe in the seven letters on the front of their jersey, not necessarily the name on their back,” says Maloney.

Smith believes brotherhood must be developed off the court. “I would say the best way to build community is to play together outside of practice,” says Smith. “But also hanging out together helps a lot, that way we can actually start to like each other. If we like each other we can work together on the court much better.”

One thing Smith emphasized was the need for bigger crowds this season. “Come to the games, give us a big crowd,” says Smith. “We’re going to be good this year.”

Maloney agrees with Smith, believing the team performs better in front of larger crowds. “When we see that we have our peers behind us and they are there supporting us it’s a contagious environment, it does provide extra energy and enthusiasm,” he Maloney.

Photo courtesy of Michael Stephen
Senior center/power forward Justin Cross