Belleville East overcomes size deficit with focus on speed
The Southwest Conference continues to be one of the toughest in the state, featuring several high school basketball teams in the top 20 state rankings, with each game likely to see Division I prospects competing.
Many of the top teams in the conference bring size to the table as well, so -- because Belleville East High School struggles in that department -- Head Coach Abel Schrader has his team focusing on ways to overcome this deficit.
"We're in a very tough conference," Schrader said. "If you look at our conference, we have several teams in the top 20 in the state. It's a very tough conference, and there are Division I kids on just about every team, so you've got to do things right. We've got a good group, and we feel like we're going to be really competitive. One of the issues is three of the top teams all have size. The guy we play at the five spot is 6-foot-3. So, when a team is bigger than us, we have trouble guarding post at times. But we're doing some different things to keep the ball out of those guys' hands and not get into their half-court offense and things like that."
Such tactics focus on playing to the team's strengths at the guard position. The Lancers have speed and scoring in the backcourt. They also use their athleticism to stifle opposing ball-handlers.
"One of our strengths is that we do have good guard play," Schrader said. "And when we shoot good shots, we're typically a pretty good shooting team. We've really stretched defenses out because we do shoot it so well at the three-point line. We're at a size disadvantage, so we've got to play bigger, we've got to play tougher. We want to play fast, we want to play smart, and defensively, we want to cause a little bit of havoc and make teams get out of their comfort zone a little bit, and that's what we've been working toward."
The team's standout backcourt features two three-year starters in Javon Pickett and Enrico Sylvester. Schrader looks to both as team leaders and to shoulder the scoring load.
"Javon is a three-year starter; he was first-team all-conference last year," Schrader said. "He's a University of Illinois commit, a lot of upside. He's becoming a great leader for us. He has a really good knack for scoring the basketball. Enrico is a three-year starter at point guard for us. He, at times, runs our team, which we need. He's a three-point shooter. Both of them provide leadership for us."
The fifth-year head coach looks for his Lancers to play well this season. If the players work hard, he thinks the team is fast and athletic enough to compete with the bigger and taller teams in the conference.
"We feel like we've got a chance to be competitive," he said. "We play in a tough conference, so we've got to do things right. The kids are coming to practice and working hard, and we're going to try to be as competitive as we can. I think we have enough talent on this team that if the kids persevere, we'll keep playing well."
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920 N Illinois St
Belleville, IL 62220