Mentor’s run to the state tournament last season was cut short due to the global pandemic that has caused plenty of uncertainty as the 2020-2021 season begins.
The Cardinals return two starters from last year’s squad that finished 20-6 overall and advanced to the regional championship round before the tournament was shut down.
Those two starters—All-Ohioan Luke Chicone and Kyle Culler—headline a talented roster that isn’t short on the potential to make a return trip to the regionals and beyond.
“As 2020 has thrown many challenges at us, the not normal preseason, I feel very confident in this team’s potential,” said 28th-year head coach Bob Krizancic. “It is just that, however, potential. We have Luke and Kyle back, but then we have some inexperience in our system. I really do like our potential to be good in March.”
Aside from Chicone and Culler, the Cardinals have some inexperience on the roster and one of the team’s biggest challenges will be to develop cohesiveness as a unit. Fortunately, Mentor has the talent—especially in the backcourt—and the coaching to make that happen.
“It is 2020 so the challenges could change daily, but on the basketball court it will be turning our inexperience into experience and the ability to develop inside play and post player depth,” Krizancic said. “Guard play is definitely our strength this year. We have to use tempo and mismatches to take advantage of our guard play and depth at the guard positions.”
Chicone, a 5-foot-10 senior point guard, will be counted on to lead the way for the Cardinals. He needs just 60 points to reach the 1,000-point milestone.
He averaged 19.7 points with five rebounds and five assists per game last season on the way to being named second-team All-Ohio and first-team All-Greater Cleveland Conference.
“I have always said that you win with guards and having a guard like Luke is such a blessing as a coach,” Krizancic said. “He truly is like having another coach on the floor and he was really starting to take his game over last year in the state tournament before COVID. We have high expectations for Luke and I am glad he is on our team.”
Culler, a 6-foot-1 shooting guard, averaged 5.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and two assists per game last winter.
“Heading into Kyle’s senior year we expect a huge jump from Kyle,” Krizancic said. “He is known as a shooter, but the rest of the game should go to the next level for us this season.”
Rounding out Mentor’s projected starting lineup are guards Jonah Waag and Steven Key and wing Ian Kipp.
Waag, a 6-foot-3 senior, averaged 15.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season at VASJ and Key, a 6-foot-2 senior, scored 14.5 points with 3.5 assists per contest while at Euclid.
“Jonah is somebody that absolutely loves defense. Jonah is a very good on-ball defender and rebounder. His shooting has improved since he entered our program in June and we expect big things from Jonah,” Krizancic said. “Steven has a change of pace with the ball and hands that we haven’t had in a while. When he is attacking and going downhill he is very hard to guard. Once Steven gets used to the Mentor system after coming over from Euclid, he will have a very successful season.”
Kipp, a 6-foot-3 senior, returns to the lineup after sitting out the 2019-2020 season.
“Ian had a great football career at Mentor, played big minutes for us as a sophomore and now we are glad to get his athleticism back on the basketball court,” Krizancic said. “Ian is somebody that will be able to guard 1-5, rebound the ball, and brings some offensive skill to our team this year.”
Cael Gray, a 5-foot-11 point guard, will compete for a spot in the starting lineup.
“Whether Cael is our fifth starter or our sixth man, he is going to play lots of meaningful minutes for us this year,” Krizancic said. “Cael was very instrumental in our bench depth at the end of 2019-2020 season; partner that with a great offseason and we are looking forward to what Cael can bring to our 2020-2021 season.”
Seniors Andrew Smith, John Sierputowski, Antonio DiFranco, and Jeff Norwood, junior Sean Collins and freshman Matt Biddell will provide depth for the Cardinals.
Smith is a 6-foot-5 forward, Sierputowski is a 6-foot-2 win, DiFranco is a 6-foot-4 forward and Norwood is a 6-foot-1 wing.
“Andrew had an outstanding football season and is going to make a college football program very happy in the future. Andrew started to get varsity basketball legs at the end of last season and we look to expand his role this winter,” Krizancic said. “John is another senior who had a great football season. We are hoping that he is able to have the same type of senior season on the basketball court. Antonio has worked extremely hard in the offseason and is pushing to get rotation minutes. Antonio’s ability and want to do the little things is what every good team needs. Jeff is a glue guy who will put his body on the line for team success.”
Collins is a 6-foot-5 wing and Biddell is a 6-foot-2 guard.
“Sean played some early meaningful minutes for us as a sophomore, but his work ethic in the offseason has him primed to break out as a junior. Sean will need to play strong on the inside for us to reach our full potential. Sean will see meaningful minutes either as the fifth starter or the first big off the bench,” Krizancic said. “Watching Matt throughout middle school and some early practice, we are excited about his ability, but there will be growing pains as he adjusts to high school game at an elite level.”
While the Cardinals have their sights set on advancing to the state tournament, they’ll first have to survive a rugged Greater Cleveland Conference schedule.
“Our key to the season is how we develop in December, January and February to be ready for March,” Krizancic said.