Independence’s boys’ basketball team played very well down the stretch in Hugh McMahon’s first season as head coach of the program.
Despite finishing 12-13 last season, the Blue Devils began to better execute the game plan and McMahon believes that has carried over into the new season.
“I think there’s a lot that has carried over,” McMahon said. “Offensively, I think we do a better job of executing our offense. The problem we’re presented with now is stepping up to the next level and being confident to compete at that level. I don’t think it’s as big as some of our young men think it is but we have to gain some confidence competing at the varsity level.”
Playing at a more consistent and higher level is the next step for the Blue Devils but it won’t be easy for a roster filled with inexperienced players.
Fortunately for McMahon, Dan Mathews returns. The three-year starter and three-sport standout at Independence averaged over nine points per game last season.
“We’re asking a lot of him and he’s really stepped up in the preseason, especially as a leader,” McMahon said. “Being a three-year starter he has really calmed these kids down a lot.”
Seniors Nick Swisher, a 5-foot-6 guard, and Nick Pietrow, a 5-foot-8 guard, juniors Matt Terrano (5-6 guard), Alec Jendre (5-10 forward), Bobby Roddy (5-11 forward), Nick Brunsman (5-8 guard), Ryan Dworznik (6-3 forward) and Mario Figliola (6-1 forward), sophomore Jason Bianco (5-8 guard) and freshmen Kyle Stefanski (5-9 guard) and Andrew Teribery (5-11 forward) round out the roster.
“We are young,” McMahon said. “We had a nice JV squad that played really well together. We’re excited about having those guys step up this year. They’re mostly juniors that will be supporting Mathews. We’re really excited about that but that presents a problem of going back to the basic building blocks and making sure the fundamentals are done well. That’s where we’re at right now. We’re seeing progress and growing off that but you can’t put the cart ahead of the horse. There are certain things that are going to take some time for us to develop and get better at.”
The Blue Devils also have to find a way to replace the production of standout Patrick Wisniewski, who graduated in June.
“We’re going to have to create some offense with our defense,” McMahon said. “We’re going to have to pressure the ball and change defenses. We’ll have to push the ball and try to be as up-tempo as possible and looking for layups. We don’t have a lot of height so that’s going to present a challenge that we’re really going to have to really take our defense up the floor a little bit and we might be more effective.”
Heading into Friday’s opener, McMahon has Mathews and Stefanski penciled in as starters. After that, the rotation will develop as the season progresses.
“The majority of the rest of the rotation at this point in time are juniors and then we have some people fighting for the last few spots on varsity,” McMahon said. “That’s part of the process too, who can give us the consistency and intensity that we’re looking for.”
McMahon believes the Blue Devils have the ability to be a force in the Chagrin Valley Conference Metro Division if they stay true to the fundamentals and consistently execute the game plan.
“We just have to be really sound fundamentally in what we do,” he said. “We think that if we can play solid defense and be able to make it difficult for them to score, make them work for it, that will help us. We also have to be smart on offense as far as taking open layups and if not trying to really break the defense down. If we don’t run good offense we’ll pay the price down at the other end.”
For the Blue Devils, the process begins on Friday with a non-conference game against Lake Ridge Academy in the Indy Tip-Off Classic and will continue until game 22. By that point, McMahon hopes the Blue Devils are playing their best basketball heading into the postseason.
“I want to see us get better game by game, week by week,” he said. “I think we had done so in the preseason. It may be a struggle with a very competitive league and a tough schedule, we threw some Division I teams in there, but that’s the whole idea. We want to be the best we can be by the end of the season and see how far that takes us in the tournament. That’s what we believe is the sign of good coaching and good teaching is to develop this team to be the best that it can be by the end of the year.”
McMahon has the benefit of working at the high school this year. Last year, he taught at Holy Name but accepted a position at Independence and he couldn’t be happier with his new role.
“Being in the building and being part of such a great community is really a joy for myself and the coaching staff,” he said. “I get to see the kids now too. It’s such a phenomenal place; it’s really neat to be there.”