Unproven. That's the word that best described the 2018-19 Nokomis High School boys basketball team at the start of the season, at least at the varsity level.
Yes, the Redskins returned Carter Sabol, who is already fourth all-time in scoring at Nokomis and still has his senior season to go. And yes, the potential was there from some others, but still, the Redskins lost almost 70 percent of their scoring and rebounding, 77 percent of their steals and 85 percent of their assists with the graduation of the class of 2018.
Yes, unproven definitely seems to be the word that best described Nokomis.
But no longer. After going 24-8 and advancing to the sectional championship in 2018, the Redskins came up with a 28-7 record and another sectional championship trip in 2019. If not for pesky and talented Central A&M, this season recap may have been a few weeks later as Nokomis nearly knocked off the state-bound Raiders in the sectional title game before seeing their season come to an end.
Central A&M was the only Class 1A team the Redskins lost to this season, with the other six losses coming against Triad, Granite City, Alton Marquette, Lincoln and Taylorville (twice). One of those losses to the Tornadoes came in the championship game of Litchfield's Rick McGraw Memorial Invitational, after Nokomis had beaten Mt. Zion, Civic Memorial and Hillsboro to make it to the title bout.
The loss ended a 15-game win streak by the Redskins as Nokomis was undefeated in the month of December and the first half of January.
Sabol, undoubtedly, was a big part of that success, but more on him in a minute. Same goes for fellow junior Alex Tosetti, who entered the season with the second most varsity points on the roster.
The only other players with any varsity experience were seniors Trevor Wright, Mason Stewart and Isaiah Bruder, who along with first-year varsity player Drew Johnson, made up the class of 2019 for the Redskins.
Wright, Stewart and Bruder entered the season with 35 points, ten rebounds, nine assists and one steal, combined, in their careers. Wright and Bruder made it into ten games last year, while Stewart played in 11. Hardly the kind of numbers that make you think they would be the core of the Redskins' 20th regional championship team.
But the varsity stats were deceptive and the group made their presence felt from the opening tip of the 2018-19 season.
Wright, who scored 13 points in ten games last season, was an all-tournament pick in both the Litchfield and Morrisonville tournaments. The senior guard could do a little bit of everything, averaging 8.3 points (third most), 3.9 rebounds (third most) and a team-best 3.8 assists during the season. Wright also made 21 threes and advanced to state in the Country Financial Three-Point Showdown.
Stewart (12 points, five rebounds last year) also gave Nokomis a three-point threat, hitting 31-of-80 from behind the arc. Inside the line he was one of the most efficient on the team as he shot 56 percent from two-point range, second only behind Sabol in two-point field goal percentage. At 7.1 points and 2.9 rebounds per contest, Stewart was able to show flashes of instant offense, in addition to the trademark stifling defense of the Redskins.
Bruder would give Nokomis an inside threat to replace Brayden Sabol, grabbing the same number of rebounds (175, second most on the team) as the Concordia University (MI) offensive lineman did last season. Bruder, who had ten points and one board last season, averaged six points per game and was in the top five in assists, steals and field goal percentage for the Redskins in his senior year.
Collectively, the trio had 746 points, 415 rebounds, 249 assists and 181 steals while appearing in all 35 games for Nokomis. By any measurement, that's an impressive impact, even more so when considering that it was their first true experience with varsity playing time. Johnson would also do well in a reserve role for the Redskins, playing in 26 games and scoring 27 points, with 32 rebounds and 14 assists.
The four seniors made up more than half of Coach Steve Kimbro's core group, with only three other players, Sabol, Tosetti and sophomore Evan Herpstreith, seeing time in at least 20 games.
Sabol was as good, if not better than he was last season, averaging 17.6 points (up from 16.1) and 6.1 rebounds (down slightly from 7.6) per game. The 6'8" forward also added a three-point shot to his arsenal, hitting 13 threes in 27 attempts for a 48 percent clip.
With 1,517 points, Sabol is just 100 points behind Neil Alexander, whose visit to Nokomis with his Lincoln squad was one of the highlights of the season, even in defeat, on the all-time scoring list. If he can remain healthy, he should be able to get the 342 points necessary to pass school scoring leader Mike Havera (1,859 points) and become the most prolific scorer in the history of Montgomery County boys basketball.
Tosetti's season was a bit of a roller coaster, with some highs like a 29-point performance against Gillespie. He would average 9.4 points per game with 3.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest to go along with the scoring.
Tossetti also led the team in threes with 59, hitting 37 percent of his shots from behind the arc. Some years, that total would have been more than the Redskins hit as a team, but for the first time in more than a decade (and most likely much longer), Nokomis topped the century mark in three-pointers with 141.
Herpstreith would be one of the first off the bench for the Redskins and scored 1.5 points per game. Junior Nick Mascher, who missed the first half of the season, was another early arrival off the bench, scoring 24 points in 14 games.
The rest of the roster followed more in the footsteps of their predecessors, young players who cut their teeth on junior varsity ball under Coach Brian Pesko and saw a few minutes here and there on varsity. Sophomores Kendall Knodle, Benny Clavin and Seth Johnson and freshman Jake Johnson all saw a few varsity minutes, but will probably see that number go up in 2019-2020.
Speaking of which, Nokomis will once again be slightly unproven, with Sabol and Tosetti the main returning cogs. But Coach Kimbro picked up his 800th career win in January and Nokomis hasn't had a losing season since 1984. So, unproven... yes, but surprising? Not a chance.
Nokomis Boys Basketball Class of 2019 Career Stats
Isaiah Bruder: 45 games; 219 total points; 4.9 points per game; two-point field goals 73-of-132 (55.3%); three-point field goals 6-of-18 (33.3%); free throws: 55-of-69 (79.7%); 176 rebounds; 63 assists; 43 steals.
Drew Johnson: 26 games; 27 total points; 1.0 points per game; two-point field goals 10-of-22 (45.5%); free throws: 7-of-11 (63.6%); 32 rebounds; 14 assists; 3 steals.
Mason Stewart: 46 games; 260 total points; 5.7 points per game; two-point field goals 69-of-121 (57.0%); three-point field goals 31-of-83 (37.3%); free throws: 29-of-57 (50.9%); 107 rebounds; 59 assists; 50 steals.
Trevor Wright: 45 games; 302 total points; 6.7 points per game; two-point field goals 91-of-207 (44.0%); three-point field goals 21-of-60 (35.0%); free throws: 57-of-102 (55.9%); 142 rebounds; 136 assists; 89 steals.