LUSK – Compared to recent seasons, the 17 boys working out at basketball practice seems like a crowded gym at times. Niobrara County High School head coach Ed Fullmer enters his fifth season and isn’t complaining a bit about the extra bodies this season.
“I think we’re getting back to having groups of kids that have a passion to play basketball,” Fullmer said. “And with the style we want to play, it’s going to be important to have a lot of guys that can handle it.”
Andie Hubbard is back for her seventh season as assistant, and sees an opportunity with the youth, depth and improved size entering the program.
“It’s a different style that may take some learning, but we have those kids that that can finish at the rim,” Hubbard said. “And when that happens, you have to worry about everybody.”
Jericho Hendricks is the lone senior player but will have company with classmate Larkin Williams stepping into the role of manager.
“We’ve got a pretty good group of guards, and coach Fullmer has a plan for us to be successful,” he said. “I’m not the best player on the team but can help the younger guys on how to act in a game, in the classroom and hopefully be better human beings.”
“He’s just a great example of what you want as a leader in the classroom and locker room,” noted Fullmer. “Jericho understands his role and has a tone about him that the other kids respect, and he has worked his tail off to improve.”
Junior Cory Bruegger has emerged as one of the top players in 2A, and at 6 feet, 1 inch, should be much harder to defend this season. Both he and Fullmer have high expectations of Cory’s role.
“We’re hoping to play so defenses don’t have time to adjust how to figure out where he is and attack the basket a little harder than we’ve been able to,” Fullmer said.
Classmates Camden Rose and Tatum Stallman have grown into solid role players and could contribute size off the bench. Both possess a nice shooting touch but will need to rebound and play quality defensive minutes.
Sophomores Quintin Bieri, Ridge Kupke and Jackson Smith gained valuable varsity time last season, and with a summer of travel ball, are much improved.
“I see a maturity in all of them compared to last season,” Hubbard said.
Nine freshmen enter the program, and several have an opportunity to see varsity minutes.
“There’s some athletes in this younger group, and with what we want to do, it just means probably more of them could get thrown into the mix,” Fullmer said. “But there’s a lot of rough edges in their games we need to smooth out.”
“It’s different being around boys’ sports but I like the way they encourage each other,” said Williams. “It’s about a lot more than just basketball, they’re teammates and friends.”
NCHS tips off their season at the Herder Classic and will get a heavy dose of top teams right away.
They face Wyoming Indian (noon on Friday), Rocky Mountain (6 p.m. on Friday) and Wright (2:30 p.m. on Saturday). The junior varsity will also get games against the Chiefs (2:30 p.m. on Friday) and Wright (11:30 a.m. on Saturday).