243 field goals, 154 free throws, 118 three-point shots, and 1004 points stepped on stage at the Sun National Bank Center to echoing applause. As former Northern Knight Juwan Harrison received his diploma, the Knights basketball team was left with a huge hole to fill. The rebuilding process has now begun to replace Harrison’s scoring, and the meaning of the word “team” has been reborn.
“We will have to be more focused on the entire team,” head coach Tim Stevens said, referring to offensive strategy. “If we try to play as individuals, we will not reach our team goals for the season.” The team leaned heavily on Harrison at times last year, especially on offense at the end of games. Harrison scored a miraculous game-winning shot to beat South, then led the way against Steinert in a close game a few days later. Without him and last year’s senior class, many of the players are unproven at the varsity level. “Nobody has varsity experience except for Kevin,” senior Niket Hans said, referring to senior captain Kevin Murphy.
“This year it’s not going to be one person we rely on to score,” Murphy said. “We will have more ball movement and passing so that everyone is a threat to score.” A four-year varsity player, Murphy will be both the primary facilitator and scorer from the point guard position this year. Even in his freshman season, Murphy recorded ten assists from 16 games. Now he will have the responsibility of moving the ball to the wings and feeding the post players in the paint.
Though it’s still unclear who will start for Harrison at small forward, the team plans to replace his scoring with a defense-first game plan. “We’re going to wreak havoc on our opponents defensively to create easy opportunities on offense by pressing and bringing excitement and energy to the court when we step out,” senior Devin Goldstein said. The press will force the opponent to make mistakes, and these turnovers should create some easy scoring opportunities in transition.
“We’re trying to turn great defense into easy offense,” Hans said.
The Knights have been preparing physically for this up-tempo style, and will try to swarm the opponent to create open shots, instead of “someone like Juwan having to create his own scoring opportunities,” Murphy said.
Once they do force these turnovers, the Knights will play the same offensive style they ran last year, which allowed them to score 50 or more points in ten games. “Our offensive system has not changed too much, but the players are becoming much more comfortable in the system,” Stevens said.
In his third year at North, Stevens said his players have become much more comfortable with his system than when he first arrived. Without the one-man show it was last year, the team hopes to play more as equals, instead of having a “superman” scorer. “This year we bring many different talents to the table, which so long as we put them together will yield wins and success for the upcoming season,” Goldstein said.
With a defense-first mentality, a more team-driven environment and equal-opportunity offense, the Knights look a completely different squad from the one that took the court a year ago. Only time will tell whether that difference pays off in the standings.