New team, same expectations for Pekin boys
All-state guard Trey Sathoff won’t be making opposing defenses pay from the 3-point line anymore, but Pekin head coach Ken Hutchinson thinks his team can succeed in other ways this winter.
While the new group of Panthers is lacking in star power after losing Sathoff, the school’s record holder in multiple categories, as well as nine other graduating seniors, they make up for the talent turnover with unselfishness and incredible teamwork.
“Now we won’t rely on just one player,” said Hutchinson, who recently kicked off his fourth season. “We’ll be unselfish and spread the ball around, and I think the fact that they’re unselfish, the loss of that senior class won’t be as detrimental.”
The unselfishness starts with its leaders, and the Panthers have a good one in Graham Wittrock. The senior captain has been playing at the varsity level since his sophomore season and was incredibly efficient as a junior, ranking third on the team in points and making 86 percent of his free throw shots. He also supplied 35 assists while limiting his turnovers to 43. His biggest skill of all, however, has nothing to do with his stat line.
“He’s got some skill and can shoot the ball, but his greatest skill is his leadership ability,” Hutchinson said. “He’s used to leading the kids as their quarterback in the fall, but on the court he leads and doesn’t need the ball in his hands all the time to do it.”
Joining Wittrock in the backcourt will be newcomers Petie Clubb and Cade Millikin. While neither junior received varsity minutes last year, fans should come to know both names quickly. Hutchinson said Clubb will be “the great facilitator on offense” at point guard, and Millikin will be the “first scoring option from the perimeter.” Together with Wittrock, they’ll make up what Hutchinson believes to be the best three-guard set in the SEISC North.
And although the backcourt looks strong, four big-bodied football players will be the strength of this squad from the inside, led by the team’s other senior captain, Seth Jensen.
Jensen saw limited minutes as a junior last season playing behind a talented senior class, but all the experience in practice will come in handy. He also found the court in 15 varsity games, where he shot 44 percent from the field and totaled 10 offensive rebounds.
“Like Graham, Seth is a good leader and a smart kid,” Hutchinson said. “We had some fairly physical practices with last year’s senior class, and he’s bringing some toughness in from that.”
Juniors Eric Adam, Brody Long and Jared Bond will work with Jensen inside, and any one of them is capable of starting on a given night. The trio has never started at the varsity level but is a good bet to out-muscle opposing post players in the paint this winter.
“I just like the unselfishness of this group. Never have I heard from them ‘I’m not getting enough shots,’” Hutchinson said. “Each one of them knows their role, and they know when to take the good shots and play to their strengths.
In addition, sophomore guards Cole Reighard and Christian Wittrock are expected to fill a valuable role off the bench. Neither will receive many minutes at first, according to Hutchinson, but both provide depth at a position lacking in numbers.
The Panthers hope to be in the running to reclaim the SEISC North title from rival IMS, but it won’t be easy. IMS returns several players from last year’s squad, and along with Mediapolis and Lone Tree, should be competing for the top spot.
“Mepo and IMS have loaded backcourts, but they’re missing their go-to guys, which I think levels the playing field,” said Hutchinson. “I think we’ll be playing for the top spot.
Hutchinson also expects the players to mesh early, and he has been pleased with the progress they’ve made so far.
“This is pretty much their first go. It’s a brand new group coming in, and I think this group is adjusting very well simply because they play together as a team,” he said. “If they continue to play smart and play unselfish, they’ll have fun and everything else will take care of itself.”
The Panthers opened the season Tuesday at Lone Tree. They play at Columbus next Tuesday.