It’s been years since Mekeel Christian Academy coach Chad Bowman started a basketball season without a player or two he was certain he could lean on.
Most recently it was brothers Caleb and Collin Stewart, and before their time, it was guys like Matt McCarty, his son Jake and Korey Collins, who had been there and done that.
“Our biggest challenge is not having returning experience,” Bowman said before Tuesday’s practice. “I can’t remember the last time we didn’t have a league MVP or a first-team all-star coming back.”
Mekeel has gone from one of the Western Athletic Conference’s most experienced teams to a group with only four returning veterans in senior Herbie Sexton, 12th-grader Mano Senthil, junior Marquan Newman and sophomore Alex Mulvey.
None of the older three played a full season due to a variety of injuries and some in-house circumstances, while Mulvey saw time with both the junior varsity and varsity teams.
“That’s our experience. We’ve got a different makeup to our team. That being said, I like this group,” said Bowman. “They bring it to practice. They’re pretty focused. They enjoy playing together and they’re very unselfish.
“They’re willing to make the extra pass for a better scoring opportunity.”
Just who is going to finish is a key question. Caleb Stewart led the Lions with a 20.4 average last season, and Collin Stewart topped them with 29.6 and 20.7 averages in the two seasons before while becoming the Scotia-based school’s career points leader with 1,481.
“I wouldn’t mind if the scoring is by committee,” said Bowman. “Different person, different night. I have a lot of guys who are capable of stepping up. I’m confident in their ability to shoot the ball and attack the basket.”
The Lions used the three-ball as a major weapon last season, with Caleb Stewart and fellow grad-uates Spencer Bath and Courtney Penson combining for 122 of them. The Lions set a school record with 17 threes and set another mark for points scored against a Section II opponent in a 95-80 win over Amsterdam.
“We’ll be more balanced from the perimeter and the paint,” Bowman said. “We’ll still shoot the three, but we’ll be less reliant on it. I want my guys to take advantage of their athleticism and go to the hole.”
Sexton and Senthil both had a trio of double-digit scoring games last season and Newman had one. With Ohenio Miller transferring to Colonie and six players in all gone to graduation, Mekeel lost a load of firepower.
“We’ll be relying on JV kids,” said Bowman. “They’re good players, and they’re committed to what we’re doing.”
Mekeel will open its WAC Southern Division schedule Saturday at Berne-Knox-Westerlo. The Lions won their 10th straight division championship last season, successfully defended their WAC Cup title and finished at 17-3 overall after a loss to Cairo-Durham in the Section II Class B quarterfinals.
“I’m excited and energized. I’m anxious to see what this team can do,” said Bowman. “We don’t have proven experience at the varsity level, and we hope to overcome that.”
Cerutti is back
Matt Cerutti has returned to Guilderland’s starting lineup after missing his junior basketball season with a sports hernia.
“It’s nice to have him on the floor with us and not in street clothes,” Dutchmen coach Ron Osinski said of the 6-foot-5 forward. “Right now, he’s finding himself and feeling himself out. It’s not easy to miss a whole year. He’s getting his feet wet.”
Cerutti had 12 points and 10 rebounds in Guilderland’s 75-57 season-starting win at Bethlehem, and on Tuesday, the team tri-captain notched 10 points and snared six rebounds in a 75-62 triumph over Columbia.
“Each and every day, each and every week, he’s improving,” said Osinski. “By the end of the season, you’ll see him at the level we thought he’d be.”
Cerutti had a solid sophomore season when he averaged 11.9 points and seven rebounds for a 15-win team that shared the Suburban Council South Division title with Bethlehem.