Boys Basketball: Morris hopes to turn adversity into a positive
By Dick Goss email@example.com July 9, 2012 7:28PM
Morris' Jason Matteson (left). | Supplied photo
One in an occasional series on Joliet-area athletes and teams gearing up for the 2012-13 high school season.
Updated: August 11, 2012 6:03AM
As Morris coach, Joe Blumberg knows the rigors of summer.
Blumberg is a primary player in arranging the two-day Morris Shootout and making sure everything runs smoothly.
“It is hard for me and hard for our kids, too,” Blumberg said during the recent 27th annual showcase tournament in the Morris field house and gymnasium. “They’re running around here and they’re having to play.”
Morris finished 1-2 in pool play on Day 1 and was relegated to the Maroon Tournament for third- and fourth-place pool finishers. No problem there, however. With everything the Redskins are facing, winning summer games is not necessarily atop the priority list.
“Our job is to turn adversity into a positive,” Blumberg said. “We’re getting inexperienced guys valuable minutes this summer. We have to put our pride aside a little. If we improve, that’s all you can ask for.”
For the Shootout, 6-foot-3 junior Tanner Sampson was shelved because he broke a thumb playing basketball the night before the event began.
Sam Allen, a 5-6 junior who figures to be the replacement at point guard for graduated two-year starter Austin Feeney, was on a mission trip.
Jason Matteson, a 5-11 senior who averaged 7 points a game last season, was spiked in a baseball game late in the spring, suffered a torn tendon in his hand and missed much of the summer season.
Danny Friend, a 6-5 senior who averaged 11 points while complementing All-Area post player Jake Olson last season, was away because of football, where he will be an NCAA Division I recruit. Blumberg said he’s unsure whether he’ll have Friend this season, depending on which school lands Friend’s football services and what that school wants from him.
For example, Oregon is interested but wants Friend, a tight end, as an offensive tackle. If he commits there, he may have to gain weight sooner than later and thus skip basketball.
Despite all of that, Blumberg said the Redskins basically could have four starters back. Ben Ortiz, a 6-6 senior, averaged 10 points last season and would join Friend to provide a post presence. Add Allen, Matteson and 5-11 sophomore Evan Bjelland to the mix, and Blumberg thinks there’s good leadership.
“Bjelland matured a lot last year and plays above the sophomore level,” said Blumberg, who added that varsity baseball pitcher Tim Smyk, a 6-4 junior, also will play a key role.
“If our young, inexperienced role players accept and excel in their roles, we can have another successful season,” he said.
The Redskins finished 16-11 in 2011-12 but did not end on a high note, losing to Yorkville in the regular-season finale, then to Pontiac in a regional semifinal.
“The regional upset against Pontiac left a bitter taste,” Blumberg said. “We worked to get the No. 1 seed, we battled through adversity to get there. I don’t think we ever recovered from the loss to Yorkville the last Friday night of the season.”
Meanwhile, Blumberg and his players kept busy at the Shootout, guaranteeing a positive event for 31 visiting teams.
“(Longtime Morris teacher) Joe Thomas gets a great group of officials, which produces a smooth Shootout,” Blumberg said. “We have very few incidents.
“We have gone to more teams from central and southern Illinois through the years (Edwardsville won this year’s event), which probably hurts our gate. But it’s good for teams in this area to see other styles.”