PELLA — An agonizing 10-month wait for the Central College men’s basketball team is finally slated to end with the launch of the modified 2021 season Jan. 23.
Four returning starters, joined by a batch of talented freshmen, are eager to erase the disappointment of an uncharacteristic 5-20 campaign that was largely the result of an onslaught of injuries to key players. Pandemic-dictated restrictions that left the players locked out of P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium for several months only added to the bottled-up energy they’re eager to unleash.
“Injuries were really hard on us last year, you lose an all-conference senior guard, a potential all-conference (center) and a couple other guys on top of that, makes it tough,” coach Craig Douma said. “Yet what I was happy about was how hard the kids came to work every day.”
And last year’s pain could fuel this season’s production.
“We had some young kids gain a lot of experience last year that will hopefully help them out this year,” Douma said. “With that, our expectations get higher to do little things better, play defense a little bit better and do the things necessary to put yourself in position to win games. Last year we were in almost every game, but in the last 5-7 minutes it was hard for us to close out. I think some of that inexperience showed.”
Beyond the battle scars, the Dutch also come back with a productive senior scoring nucleus.
Adam Flinn (senior, St. Louis, Mo., Lafayette HS), a 6-foot guard, received team MVP honors after pumping in 21.0 points a game, including a 37-point outburst at Loras College Nov. 26. He’s just 112 points shy of the career 1,000-point mark and shot 50.7% from the field, including a team-best 42.3% from 3-point range. Flinn passed out 3.8 assists per game as well, along with 1.1 steals.
“Adam had a heck of a year last year,” Douma said. “He shot the ball really well again. Expectations are really high for him this year. I think he’s going to step up and do the things necessary to help us be successful.”
After an injury-shortened sophomore season, Caden Mauck (senior, Kansas City, Mo., Blue Springs South HS), a 6-foot-6 center, was a key offensive cog again as well last year with 15.2 points and a team-high 9.0 rebounds. He shot a team-high 57.9% from the floor.
“Caden’s coming off a great year,” Douma said. “He had kind of a disappointing sophomore season but he came back, he lost weight, his body was in good shape and have averaged 15 points and nine rebounds. That’s a heck of a year.”
A third senior double-figures scorer is 6-2 guard Sean Kostyk (Cape Coral, Fla., Mariner HS). After arriving as a transfer last year, he averaged 10.1 points, hitting a team-best 62 3-point goals.
“He had a nice year last year and wants to improve on that,” Douma said.
Yet while the preseason is lengthy, it’s also limited due to safety restrictions.
“Our guys did a good job of hitting the weight room this fall and getting shots up on their own,” Douma said. “But conditioning-wise, we’re a long way from being ready. That’s probably one of my biggest concerns.”
And drills and shooting sessions can’t mimic full-court competition, especially in Douma’s areas of emphasis for 2021.
“Our main focus is defending and rebounding,” he said. “Bottom line, we scored the ball well enough last year although I want to have five guys in double figures rather than just two or three. But defensively and in rebounding, we just weren’t good enough last year. We may not be the biggest team on the floor but we’ve got to make up for it by doing the little things right and that includes guarding and making sure we secure rebounds.
“Rebounding is about positioning but it’s also about toughness. And defense is desire and playing smart.”
Injuries slowed Central’s progress in those areas.
“We were extending guys,” Douma said. “I felt like last year we were playing guys a lot of minutes. When we’ve got guys playing 36-plus minutes a game, our defense is probably not going to be the strongest. So if we can balance out playing time a little more, that will help.”
While Flynn is the team’s top scorer and playmaker, he’ll not always be the one running the point.
“We can use him a lot of different ways,” Douma said. “We can use him at point guard and we can use him at off guard, that’s the nice thing about Adam. I think we’ll have some stability in that position that can help back him up and allow him to play some different positions.”
Marcus Ashford, Jr. (junior, Lexington, Ky., Paris HS), is just 5-10 but used his speed to make an oversized impact early in his career before sitting out the spring semester. He averaged 4.2 points in 10 games with a team-best 1.3 steals.
“Marcus is a very dynamic point guard,” Douma said. “His quickness and defensive ability will help our team out a lot. We’re excited about having him back this year. He can add a lot to what we’re doing.”
A 6-0 junior, Jake Anderson (Iowa City, West HS), saw his minutes steadily increase late in the year, averaging 2.4 points in 11 games. He had some off-season surgeries yet and benefited from the lengthy layoff.
“Jake gained some valuable time,” Douma said. “He’s another one we can use at point guard and at the off guard position as well. He feels good about his body now and what he can do this year.”
Drew Edwards (Eden Prairie, Minn., Eden Prairie HS), a 6-0 sophomore, could contribute at the point as well.
“He will push for playing time,” Douma said. “His leadership at the point guard position is really good and his defense is outstanding. He’s one of the most hard-nosed guys that we have.”
Kostyk is a returning starter at the number two spot.
“We’re expecting more from him in his senior year,” Douma said. “He’s working hard to make the year go right. I think he has his goals set a little higher this year. He wants to shoot the ball a little better from the three and hopefully have a little bit bigger role on the team.”
Behind him, 6-2 Hustle Award winner Kade Terrell (junior, Montrose, Colo.) averaged 12 minutes a game, scoring 2.4 points with 1.2 assists.
“He’s a big-time energy player for us,” Douma said. “Not a lot of people work harder than Kade does and he brings energy to our team on both ends of the floor.”
As a 6-2 freshman Drake Johnson (sophomore, Stanton) was ticketed for some reserve minutes last year but was thrust into a more prominent role when now-graduated standout Jaden Moody was injured. Johnson responded, averaging 9.2 points and 4.0 rebounds, receiving the team’s Newcomer of the Year Award.
“He gained a lot of experience last year and it helped him grow up a lot as a freshman,” Douma said. “I think he’s physically stronger this year. We’re looking for him to step up on both ends of the floor for us this year.”
Finding help at the number three position is a priority and the Dutch may have to turn to a freshman class that appears to have some possibilities.
At 6-3, versatile sophomore Sam Beatty (Mount Pleasant) could also step in. He appeared in 16 games as a freshman.
“Sam’s a guy who can play both the three and the four position,” Douma said. “I’ve seen a lot of shots transformed and Sam is one of the top players I’ve seen changing the form of his shot and improving it from when he came in as a freshman to where he’s at now. They say kids can’t change once they’re that old. Sam is living proof that you can improve your shooting form and shoot the ball better. I’m excited about what he can possibly do for us this year. He can play multiple positions and he can guard anybody.”
Keaton Rodgers (Peoria, Ariz., Sandra Day O’Connor HS), a 6-4 sophomore, was a high-impact freshman, starting 14 games, averaging 6.5 points and 4.0 rebounds. He’s the top returning player at the four position but is effective off the bench as well.
“Keaton’s a guy that got a lot of valuable playing experience last year,” Douma said. “We can use him a lot of different ways in our offense and we’re going to be expecting a lot more out of him.”
Douma is likely to look at newcomers for additional help at this spot as well.
Mauck is a go-to player at center for the Dutch.
“We’re really excited with how we’re going to use him in our offense, what he can do inside and out, and putting the ball on the floor,” Douma said. “He’s going to be a difficult guy to handle for a lot of teams.”
Additional help is needed on the front line and Douma thinks it’s arrived in this year’s freshman class, which boasts the most size the Dutch have reeled in in recent years.
“I like our freshman group,” Douma said. “We’ve also got some transfers who will look for playing time. And our freshman group overall, leadership-wise and the type of kids they are in the classroom, they’re an outstanding group. We’re excited about their future in our program.”
The eight-game American Rivers slate is brief, but likely to be intense, with experienced players throughout the league.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Douma said.
It’s only an eight-game season followed by a league tournament, but there’s a championship on the line and championship basketball will always be a priority for the Dutch, Douma said. Yet the outside world has penetrated the walls of P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium. More is on the line for 2021.
“We do care about the wins and losses, yet that’s not the biggest concern this year,” Douma said. “We want to be conference champs but this season is about keeping our kids healthy so we can keep Central strong, keep academics on campus and contribute to the success of Central overall. It’s more than just basketball this year. We want to be part of Central having a successful year as a college.”