For a team under a new coach, Alex Hutchins is convinced his Hays High boys basketball team is as ready as it can be to open the season.
Hutchins attributes that readiness to what the team accomplished in the offseason.
"I think a lot of us being on track and being comfortable with the new coach and the new philosophy has to do with the time the kids put in during the summer," Hutchins said. "These boys were in they gym a lot and we played a lot of games. Even though we didn't probably go as deep with some of the stuff we were running this summer, they still got really, really comfortable with some of our basic principles and got really comfortable with me I think.
"There's still going to be a learning curve and an adjustment like there always is, but I do think, considering it will be game one on Thursday, I think we are a little bit ahead of the curve just being comfortable with each other."
The Hays High boys will open the Gerald Mitchell Hays City Shootout against Wichita-Life Prep at 8:15 on Thursday at Hays High School.
Hutchins was hired to lead the boys basketball program after one season coaching the HHS girls team. He replaced Rick Keltner, who wrapped up a 34-year career coaching the Indians last season.
Hays High returns several players who earned varsity experience on last year's 9-12 team.
"I think we've got a lot of guys that are comfortable playing in a varsity game," Hutchins said. "What we're going to have to do is see who is going to step forward and start snatching some roles and who's going to start becoming the go-to guys and who we can depend on to get a bucket or get a stop. I think there's a lot of guys that are going to have opportunities in front of them, it's just going to be sifting through them to see who takes advantage of them best."
Returners who will play key roles include junior guard T.J. Nunnery, junior forward Dalyn Schwarz, senior forward Dylan Ruder, junior guard Jason Krannawitter, junior forward Trey Adams.
"T.J. has been one of our better guards," Hutchins said. "He's done a good job of taking care of the ball and I think he's taking a really big leap forward defensively from last season. Dalyn has really been consistent for us inside. He's kind of a Swiss-Army knife. We can put him anywhere on the floor and we know he's going to know what he's supposed to do and do it well. Dylan Ruder is another one who's put in a ton of work in the offseason. Dylan is a lot stronger and Dylan's outside shot is a lot better than it was before, but at the same time we're trying to force feed him inside and use his length as much as we can.
"Jason Krannawitter has been really good for us defensively; I think he might be one our most basketball-smart kids. He makes the right play a lot on both sides of the ball — part of that probably has to do with his lack of height. He compensates with his brain and has done a really job of it.
"Trey Adams is, athletically, maybe one of the most blessed players I've been around. He's so quick and explosive for a guy his size."
Other players who are expected to play significant roles include sophomores Carson Kieffer and Jace Linenberger and seniors Tucker Johnson and Brock Lummus.
Hutchins said there is a host of other Indians who will compete for playing time.
"I legitimately feel like we have 18 guys who are battling for varsity uniforms," he said. "We're really excited as a coaching staff to get the bright lights on and see who rises to the challenge."
Hutchins said matchups will often dictate the style of play.
"We want to be a really, really good half-court team on both sides," Hutchins said. "We want to be a really, really good half-court defense and I really, really good halfcourt offense. The thought process is, in the biggest games against the best teams, that's probably how we're going to have to end up playing, whether it's a sub-state game or a state game or a tournament championship."
Hutchins said opening the season in a tough tournament like the Hays Shootout brings mixed emotions. The tournament field is comprised of Hays, Thomas More Prep-Marian, Life Prep, Olathe West, Great Bend, Manhattan, Free State and Milwood (Okla.)
"You hate the thought of going 1-2 or 0-3 to open your season, but at the same time, we probably will see two or three of the best five teams that we might see all year this weekend," Hutchins said. "It is a really, really quick assessment of where you're at. We try to prepare ourselves as much as possible, but at the same time, at some point you've got to turn the kids loose and trust them and see what they've got."