North Knox goes a new route

Staff photo by Tom Graham

North Knox's Daniel Crabtree coached his Warriors for the first time in games, albeit unofficially, Wednesday at the Lincoln Trail Shootout in Robinson, Ill.

Lot of practices scheduled for Crabtree's big changes

When Daniel Crabtree was an assistant basketball coach at Princeton, it wasn't uncommon for the Tigers to play 30 games in the summer.

When he became the North Knox coach on the last day of May, the Warriors' summer schedule had six games listed. A part of the reason for the lack of games was Crabtree's late arrival to the position. But the more important reason was that North Knox and its new coach needed time to mesh before taking on opponents.

So while area teams spent the majority of June traveling to play in shootouts, the Warriors had 12 consecutive practices before facing somebody else.

"We were kind of put in a tough position. I'm trying to put in a new system, and it's a pretty big overhaul, and it would be tough to play after a day or two of practices," Crabtree said. "Two-and-a-half weeks of practices is a long time, but it's been good. We've consistently had 17-18 guys every night, so I've been pleased with the numbers and the work ethic. The kids have been very coachable.

"I'm not going to treat June like it's March. I know at times now we're going to look sloppy. It's a long process, but I'm a patient guy. We'll get there," he said. "Right now practice is more important than games."

Crabtree planned changes on both ends of the court for a North Knox team that tallied a combined four wins the past two seasons. The team is still young, with no seniors on the roster.

The four-out, one-in motion offense fits well for a team that doesn't possess a lot of size.

"If we had a big, dominant post player, we'd get it inside a lot more, but I hope this creates some driving lanes for us," Crabtree said. "We have sets, but I'm trying to get them to read the defense and make decisions on their own. We work on decision-making every day."

The defense is still man-to-man, but with different philosophies. Instead of forcing players to the baseline, Crabtree wants his defense to force players to the middle of the court. Instead of an aggressive on-the-ball defense, he wants his players to stay between his man and the rim.

"We'll mix in some zones, but we want to be a strong half-court man team. Our transition defense is a big emphasis. This team gave up too many easy baskets last year. We need to be more disciplined on that end of the court," he said.

Another characteristic of North Knox in recent years is that many of the players are similar in talent. Crabtree said he noticed that and liked the competitiveness shown in practice. But he also hoped that it doesn't stay that way.

"I'd like to see some try to separate from the pack. That's a good thing about basketball in June and July. I can try different lineups, see who plays well in competition," Crabtree said. "By the season I'd like to establish a consistent starting lineup.

"I have seen a couple come a long way from last year, like Holtman Doades and Rhett Sheren. Both were freshmen last year, but those two have physically matured and they're aggressive kids. I would say they are trending in the right direction. Of course (junior) Reece Hammelman is a good player and was a good player last year."

Sheren's strength has impressed Crabtree so much that the coach may have the 6-footer play in the post. Others inside candidates are 6-2 junior Gavan Carpenter and 6-4 sophomore Ian Kixmiller. The team is missing its leading returning scorer, 5-11 junior Brayden Thorne, who has a fracture in his spine. He's expected to be healthy by preseason.

The team played their first three summer games Wednesday at Lincoln Trail College. It plays at least three games Monday at Wood Memorial. Crabtree said he is attempting to get his team into a couple more shootouts in July.

"The kids are excited about playing somebody else beside themselves. It'll be nice to evaluate our players against different players, different styles," he said.

The new coach wants his players in games once the season starts, saying he's "95 percent sure" that the Warriors are going to have a freshman or C-team.

"I want every kid who puts in the time in practice to have an opportunity to play in games, either on the freshman or JV level," Crabtree said. "You can have freshmen who aren't ready for JV basketball, and it's a tough ask of them to get roughed up in practice and don't play in a game. Missing out on games for an entire year puts them behind.

"A big priority of mine is having a freshman team."

Two of the assistants return, junior varsity coach Clint Roesler and varsity assistant Randy Hammelman. Crabtree said a yet-to-be determined third coach is going to lead the freshman or C-team.

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