NEOGA — "I hope our athleticism is our strength," said first-year Neoga boys basketball coach Andrew Snow. "We are built like a track team when we get our starting five out there. We have long and lanky guys who are quick and can run. We want to use our athleticism to make ourselves hard to guard in transition and on the perimeter."
Neoga was 1-2 overall heading into Friday's non-conference game against Sullivan.
Returning from last year's 15-13 team are senior forward Mitchell Cornell and sophomore guard Reece Johnson, who was a member of the JG-TC All-Area team. The 15-13 record was its best since the 2010-11 team. Johnson led the Indians, who were coached by Bob Lockart, who is now at WSS, in scoring (12.0), 3-point field goals (48), assists (2.6) and steals (1.4). Cornell averaged 5.1 points.
The team lost eight seniors from last year.
"We have been trying to learn our identity as a team," said Snow, a 2011 graduate of South Central. "We have been trying to figure out our roles and what style of play is best suited for our team."
This year's varsity team has six seniors, three juniors and three sophomores. The seniors are Cornell, Levi Peters, Trevor Fletcher, Chase Lanham, J.C. Keller and Dalton Potter.
"I anticipate a lot of leadership to come from our seniors," said Snow, who was a freshman/sophomore coach at Effingham St. Anthony under Stewardson-Strasburg graduate Cody Rincker in 2016-17. "These guys have been playing behind eight seniors who graduated last year for three years so they are very anxious for their opportunity and they won't let it go by the wayside."
Last year Neoga averaged 48.8 points per game and allowed 50.4, which was the third best in the area.
"With our speed and length we are going to try and pressure the ball and push the pace as much as we can in man-to-man," said Snow. "There could be instances against teams with a little more meat that we might have to extend out into a big wide zone, but time will tell on that if we are able to defend the post."
Stew-Stras grad Ben Giertz is an assistant along with Brett Harmeier.
As for the transition to a head coach Snow said, "It has been fun. I've learned a lot of things about myself and how I want to do things in my program. The players have been great. They have not treated me like a first-year coach. They have bought into everything we are trying to do and it has been great."
Neoga has some height in Fletcher, 6-3 and Cornell 6-4.
"We are going to be a quick team," said Snow. "We are not a tall team, but we are not short. Our whole starting five will range from 6-0 to 6-4 and all are long, athletic guys."
The Indians are to play host to Casey-Westfield Tuesday and National Trail Conference play is to start Jan. 8 at Effingham St. Anthony.
"I only envision us playing seven or eight guys at least to start the year, but all of our guys have a motor and fatigue shouldn't be a huge issue for us, but foul trouble and injuries are what could cause us problems with our lack of depth," said Snow.
Johnson and junior Trevor Roy as well as Peters lead Neoga in scoring with 17.7, 12.3 and 10 points per game respectively.
"We have a goal of winning 20 games and a regional," said Snow. "The team last year was the best Neoga team in recent memory. So we are going to build right off that. We don't see a game on our schedule that we shouldn't win. We know if we buy into our style of play and guys play their roles we will be tough to beat."