Thirteen players are listed on the 2012-13 Morris varsity boys basketball roster. How many dress in Tuesday's opener at the Coal City Thanksgiving Tournament remains to be seen.
Three of the players Morris expected to be returning starters in basketball — Danny Friend, Jake Hogan and Jason Matteson — are members of the football team. On Saturday, the Redskins will face Sacred Heart-Griffin in the Class 5A football state semifinals. With a win, their season will be extended by a week — and those players will miss the Coal City basketball tournament entirely.
"For a very good reason, only one of those guys is in a basketball uniform right now — Ben Ortiz," Morris coach Joe Blumberg said of the returning four. "Jason Matteson and Jake Hogan are awfully good guards, and we sorely miss their talent, leadership, work ethic and experience. Danny Friend still hasn't told us if he is playing or not, but he would be the fourth returning starter, and be a force in the paint.
"The football playoff run is great for our football program, for our school, and for our community. From a basketball standpoint, we just need to be patient and expect some growing pains early.”
Even some of the players whose fall sports are over or nonexistent are have yet to participate fully in practice. Junior guard Jonathan Turman has been out with a groin injury. Sophomore guard Evan Bjelland, who played for the varsity in 2011-12, "is not able to cut as sharply as we’d like," says Blumberg, as he recovers from an ankle injury.
"We don't have a lot of guys, but the guys who are here are preparing as hard as we can and doing whatever we can to be ready," Ortiz, a senior forward, said. "That's all you can do. We knew ahead of time we would be short, so you make the best of it."
Should Bjelland and Turman be unable to go against St. Bede Tuesday, Blumberg says the Redskins may end up dressing seven players.
"All I can guarantee is that we will play hard, we will improve, and we will display mental toughness." Blumberg said. "Our guys will handle the adversity and grow from it.”
No matter what happens between now and Tuesday, Ortiz and his teammates are aware of the possibility of extended minutes. He says the situation has not really changed the way he has prepared for the season.
"It's a little bit of an adjustment," he said, "but effort is effort. There's no reason not to be giving 100 percent all of the time no matter what. Having those two other seniors, Jake Hogan and Jason Matteson, would definitely help us, but we're going to think about the things we can control and not what we can't."
With St. Bede looming days away, Blumberg had the varsity scrimmage against the Morris sophomore team this week. Even so, he is unsure what to expect since the varsity has not been able to hold a five-on-five intrasquad scrimmage. Short-term, that figures to be to the Redskins' detriment, though it may not be one long term.
“By the end of the season, we anticipate the slow start to be a positive. You have to treat adverse situations as opportunities to grow," Blumberg said.
"We are going to be forced to give some rookies significant, valuable minutes early. That should give us a deeper bench as the season progresses. More emphasis on individual skills early and less on putting in sets and in bounds plays will make us more fundamentally sound. I’m not sure Kaneland will get much information from scouting us next week.
"Our goal is to win each ballgame, and we will make sure we are prepared, but we can’t get to excited over an early win or too down over a loss. The focus right now is on daily improvement until we can get to full strength."