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Monarch boys continue to show improvement

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

At the start of the season, the Thomas More Prep-Marian boys' basketball team was one with an uncertain future.

The Monarchs had no starters returning and just one player who averaged more than 10 minutes per game. The bulk of their lineup was made up of juniors who saw little varsity playing time the season before and sophomores who saw no varsity action.

The inexperience showed early in the season, especially against the better competition at the Hays City Shoot-Out and Phillipsburg, one of the top-ranked teams in Class 3A.

But since, the improvement has been evident.

TMP started 1-5 but has since gone 4-4.

"As we found out before Christmas, I had hoped they would be ready for this level, but they just weren't ready," said TMP head coach Joe Hertel. "It's only now where we are getting the feel for what it takes and what is required at the varsity level.

"It's been a long learning curve," he added. "I'm not going to say a steep one, but a long one for them. They still aren't over the hump."

TMP has improved in nearly every facet.

Early, the Monarchs struggled with careless turnovers, especially when they were pressured in the backcourt. It was most evident against Kearney, Neb., in the first round of the Hays City Shoot-Out. TMP had more than 30 turnovers against Kearney's relentless press.

Through the first six games, TMP averaged 21.8 turnovers per game, and in its eight games since, the Monarchs cut that number down to 16.9.

"I have always said for 30-plus years now that I can win without bigs, but I can't win without guards," Hertel said. "I need my guards to handle the pressure, handle the backcourt pressure, get us where we need to be, get us into what we'd like to run and be a coach on the floor like Shane Zimmerman is."

Hertel attributed much of his squad's improvement to Zimmerman, a senior point guard and the top returner from 2011-12.

"We brought out a new defense tonight, a little match-up zone, and he is basically like me out there," Hertel said after his team's win against Ellinwood on Tuesday. "I've got him right in the middle where he is coaching both directions, and he is absolutely a Godsend when you have young guys on the floor who have never been in this particular sequence before."

It's not just turnovers either. TMP has improved in all areas.

The Monarchs have improved their steals from 10.5 through its first six games to 11.9 in the eight games since.

Same with field goal percentage: 29.8 percent through six and 42.2 percent in last eight. Same with 3-point percentage: 19.7 percent to 25.0 percent. Same with free throw percentage: 59.0 percent to 68.1 percent. Same with total points scored: 42.3 to 55.6.

Much of that has been the improved contributions and arrivals of underclassmen.

Sophomore guard Kameron Schmidt is a perfect example.

Schmidt has provided a big spark for TMP recently and could be a big presence for the squad heading into the future.

He averaged 2.1 points and 11.9 minutes per game in his first 12 games, but in the past two, Schmidt has scored 29 points and averaged 20 minutes per game.

Hertel said Schmidt's playing time has revolved around his improved defensive play.

"I've known Kameron could score for a long time," Hertel said. "This is not a surprise. The difference is, now he's figured out how to defend and be successful on the other end. That's why he's giving us a lift, because he's playing the game on both ends of the floor."

Ellinwood head coach Dustin Klassen saw TMP's improvement firsthand.

On Dec. 14 at Ellinwood, TMP lost 61-54 after missing its final 15 shots, but on Tuesday, TMP won 65-61 at Al Billinger Fieldhouse buoyed by the arrival of Schmidt, who scored a team-high 15 points.

"No. 4 (Schmidt), I don't know how old he is, but ... he killed us a lot of times," Klassen said.

"They are a different ballclub, but I hope we are, too," Klassen added.

Other TMP players have carved out their roles.

Sophomore forward Cameron Fouts is a strong presence below the rim with the ability to draw fouls and sink shots at the foul line.

Fouts leads the squad in scoring with 9.8 points per game largely due to his team-high 53 free throws made. He also is second on the squad in free throw percentage with 73.6.

Junior forward Jordan Gottschalk is an all-around post player. He leads the squad with 6.2 rebounds per game and also scores 8.5 points per game.

Junior forward Ryan Mayorga stands 6-foot-3, adding length inside for TMP. He shoots a team-high 82.6 percent from the foul line and is second on the team with 8.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

Sophomore guard Max Megaffin has established himself as the team's top sharpshooter. Megaffin is 13 of 40 (32.5 percent) from the 3-point line -- the only player shooting above 25 percent from beyond the arc.

Another promising stat? All of the above will be around for at least another year.