FREMONT – As the Fremont Ross boys basketball coach John Cahill enters his second season on the Little Giants’ sideline, reshaping the program’s culture remains Job 1.
But, as Ross prepares to host Toledo Waite Friday at 7:30 in its season-opener, with progress being made on the culture, Cahill hopes that progress will carry over to the team’s play on the court.
“The offseason was much better,” Cahill said. “Last year we had a hard time getting guys to lifting and we made a real commitment to be in the weight room – and that’s from when we finished in the spring last year, though the summer and through the fall. I would say we made real strides in trying to change culture.
“We’re really holding ourselves accountable. We don’t really have rules, we have standards. And, so far, they’ve’ done a good being accountable to themselves and to us.”
A team that finished 5-18 last season, Ross returns only one starter, senior Ben Gedeon. Ross will have to replace its shifty point guard, Jabriyus Heidelburg, its main presence in the post , Bryce McKinstry and leading scorer, Bryce Root.
Though its losses leave a void, Cahill hopes a more cohesive unit will be able to offset the loss in skill.
“Last year’s seniors, they were good kids, but we just never all quite got on the same page – and I’ll take some of that blame – but I don’t think we ever quite got all that we could have out of that group, talent-wise,” Cahill said. “This group, on paper, probably isn’t as talented, we’ll be an underdog in every game we play, but the games aren’t played on paper and I think this group has great chemistry and great togetherness.
“If you study Fremont basketball, Fremont might not always win but they’ve always battled. I think what we’re looking to for is compete hard every day in practice and games. So far, they’ve been good at doing that.”
In Gedeon, Ross returns a strong spot-up perimeter shooter and leader. He will be joined by fellow seniors, Connor Malan, who will be bring grit and sandpaper down low, and Kang Ou, another capable shooter.
Underclassmen will play a prominent role in 2019-20. A trio of sophomores, Kahji Pickens, Kurt Harrison and Labronze Barnett will all see heavy minutes – if not start.
“Right now (Pickins is) starting at point guard for us and that is something that, coming into the season, I don’t think we were necessarily expecting,” Cahill said. “He’s very confident with the ball, hasn’t give us a ton of turnovers and his defensive effort has been through the roof. He’s really competed hard every day. I think he’s earned it.
“Kurt is going to give us good presence in the post. He’s really stepped up over the summer and got strong. On our Indiana trip he played extremely well and held his own in the post. Bronzie got his feet wet last year, it was a big jump for him but he hung in there. He’s steady, he rebounds well, he defends and he’s getting his 3-point shooting touch back.”
A mix of juniors remain and will be in the mix for minutes as well, including Josh Rhea, Jonathan Szymanowski, Jared Adkins, Mikey Lather and Dion Bradley, as well as freshman Kaden Holmes.
As Year 2 of the Cahill era nears its tip-off, the Little Giant alum said his goals of the season are mixed between the intangible and quantifiable, but both take the long-view.
“If we do our core standards, I will be really happy at the end of the year, regardless of wins and losses,” he said. “If I think we’ve helped a lot of young men, if they get to the level where they have some level of belief and they’re playing hard together and they’re getting good grades and all of those things.
“At Clyde I took for granted cutting down nets. We haven’t cut on down here in quite some time. To win a sectional title would be something we haven’t done in a long time. This isn’t something you’ll hear me say a lot, but we’re young and inexperienced, so I don’t expect us to be playing our best basketball today. But with a month, two months, three months, four months of them being around our coaches, I think by March we could be a tough team to beat. The seniors have, for the most part, bought into everything we’ve said since we’ve been here, and I would love to see them have an opportunity to cut a net down. We would love to cut a sectional net down.”