BY YANEEK SMITH, BEACON CONTRIBUTOR
Head coach: Keith Diebler, second season
Last year: 1-22 (1-15 SBC River)
Key returning players: Beau Buchanan, Sr., 6-3, P/W; Kaden Conrad, Sr., 6-2, PG; Brandon Wunder, Sr., 6-0, W
Forecast: It’s not uncommon for teams to struggle with learning a new system, and that was the case for Danbury last season. The Lakers struggled to a 1-22 record last year, but there are reasons to be optimistic with what this season has in store.
Danbury returns three seniors — 6-3 post/wing Beau Buchanan; 6-2 point guard Kaden Conrad; and 6-0 wing Brandon Wunder — and two other letter winners in 5-9 guard Bradley Murray and 5-10 wing/guard Grayson Clark. With a lineup still in flux, the five players have a shot at earning a starting role, if not a place in the rotation.
It’s the second season for the Lakers in Keith Diebler’s up-tempo, fast-paced offense.
“Both the offense and defense, it’s light years ahead right now. We’re learning how to excel in a fast-paced system where sometimes we may not have that 6-6, 6-7 or 6-8 kid where we can take advantage,” said Diebler. “This is the second year for this group, and they’ve picked it up really well. The kids seem to understand and grasp the finer points of execution. The more you know about playing each position, the better you are in the system.”
At this point, Diebler isn’t even sure who is going to be a part of his rotation, which could feature any assortment of players.
“We haven’t even established our varsity roster yet. We have 17 kids, and there have been a lot of bright spots,” he said. “Daniel Webster is coming back for us at 6-5 and we’re looking for big things from him. He could possibly start.
“We’ve seen good things out of Alex Frank, Blake Barker, Andy Zelms and Landon Dunlap. Bradley Murray and Grayson Clark both had great years as sophomores last season. We’ve got a host of kids that are really improving and looking to make an impact on the varsity level.
“The culture we try to create is to get better and try to learn. You can accomplish things when your mindset is to get better. That seems to be working at the moment. The kids understand that they’re playing in a very good league. We have to work hard and get better each day,.” said Diebler. “I’m really excited for this group. We’re improving, what that means down the road is going to be interesting to find out. This group, they understand that this has to be a culture of hard work and it has to be ‘all for one’ and ‘one for all.’”
There are seven juniors on the team — Frank (6-1 post/wing); Zelms (6-3 wing/post); Webster (6-5 post); Murray (5-9 guard); Clark (5-10 wing/guard); Danny Harris (6-0 wing/guard); and Jaden Rigdon (5-8 wing) — six sophomores — Barker (6-3 wing/post); Dunlap (5-10 wing/post); Guy Maltese (5-9 post/wing); Maverick Murray (5-6 post/wing); James Morrissey (6-5 wing); and Trenton Rigdon (6-0 wing) — and one freshman in 5-3 point guard Gaven Clark.
The Lakers play in a very good league, the Sandusky Bay Conference River Division.
“This is a basketball league,” Diebler said. “You can’t ever count out Tiffin Calvert or Old Fort. I would think St. Joe has a lot of people coming back, the league has a lot of people coming back. St. Mary is good, New Riegel is always tough, Hopewell-Loudon is a good team, Brent does a great job at Gibsonburg and Lakota came on last year. The league has a solid group of coaches, you don’t want to not name anybody because it’s such a good basketball league.”
Diebler brings a premium basketball pedigree. He won a state championship at Upper Sandusky in 2005 with his two sons, Jake and Jon. Jake, currently an assistant coach at Ohio State, played collegiately at Valparaiso University while Jon, who had a successful career playing for the Buckeyes, is playing professional basketball in Israel.