Considering the circumstances, Shawnee Mission North boys basketball coach Steve Stitzer expected the season to start this way.
Stitzer has a young team this season, one with only one starter back from last year’s 6-11 squad, and SM North’s projected starter at point guard is injured.
So when Stitzer’s team coughed up 26 turnovers and struggled to stop a lightning-quick Lee’s Summit squad during an 82-54 loss in the 810 Varsity Tipoff Classic on Dec. 2 at Liberty, he wasn’t all that surprised.
“We need to learn what pressure is going to do to us, play better defense,” Stitzer said. “First and second quarter, we ran with them until they started hitting the threes and putting pressure on us and pulled away. I knew it was going to happen, and with that young group I didn’t know what we’d do.”
SM North began 2017-18 minus its starting point guard, 6-foot-1 junior Amari Williams, who is out with an injury. The only returning starter is 6-foot-7 junior forward Jarrett Hensley, who averaged around nine points per game last year when Stitzer said he was “only 6-foot-5.”
“Jerrod Hensley’s 6-7 and overlooked,” Stitzer said. “Nobody even thinks anything about him, but he’s going to be a force. He must have had six, seven blocks tonight. We get the ball to him it’s going to open everybody else.”
Ideally, SM North’s guards will get the ball inside to Hensley, where he managed 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting against Lee’s Summit.
Otherwise, SM North struggled to get any offensive flow and couldn’t stop Lee’s Summit’s up-tempo offense.
They also had no answer for Lee’s Summit senior Will Eames, who hit six straight three-pointers in the third quarter on his way to 31 points.
“They put pressure on us,” Stitzer said. “They were trying to not allow us to run our offense and get it into our big. And they did a good job of it. They made us look young and that’s what we are.”
Because the Indians are so young, Stitzer found the season-opening setback a little easier to take. He believes this team, only two years removed from SM North’s first state boys basketball championship in 63 years, is going to get better as the season goes along.
“I like our team,” Stitzer said. “I like the way we’re going to play this year. Once we get it together, I think we’re going to be a factor.”