With talent and experience, Mounts have eyes on the prize

By on December 6, 2017
Ephrata’s Sam Cable (31) is one of several key players returning for the Mounts.
Ephrata’s Sam Cable (31) is one of several key players returning for the Mounts.

Ephrata’s Sam Cable (31) is one of several key players returning for the Mounts.

A year ago, Ephrata basketball got back on the map.

After years of mediocrity, the Mounts turned in their first winning season since 2004-05, culminating with league and district playoff appearances.

With so many faces set to return from that 16-10 club, Ephrata is expected to make a real run at the Section Two title this year.

If they succeed, the Mounts will do so with a new leader on the bench.

In late August, Charlie Fisher, who did a masterful job in his two seasons as head coach at Ephrata, left to take over at Manheim Central.

That set the stage for the hiring of Jon Treese, who inherits a Mountaineer team filled with talent and experience. Treese coached the last four years at Muhlenberg.

The Mounts seemingly have all the pieces in place. Senior point guard Dilyn Becker (5-10) is back to run the show while fellow talented veterans Brad DaBella (6-4, Sr.), Sam Cable (6-1, Sr.), Xavian Rodriguez (6-2, Jr.) and Zack McGillan (6-1, Jr.) also return to the mix.

Add in several role players who are hungry to chip in at the varsity level and the Mounts clearly should be a difficult out every night.

The Mounts will unfortunately be without senior Brendan Holbritter, who knocked down a lot of big shots a year ago. Holbritter, who was injured in a serious car accident last spring, is not cleared to play this year due to his injuries.

Ephrata opens the season Friday night at the Exeter Tip-Off tournament. The Mounts face Conrad Weiser at 5 p.m. in the opener.

Recently, Review Sports Editor Todd Ruth sat down with Treese to discuss what figures to be a very exciting season for the Purple and Gold.

The following is a transcript of their conversation:

Todd Ruth: Now that you’ve been here for a couple weeks, are you enjoying coaching at Ephrata?

Jon Treese: I love it. I’m really enjoying myself. I’m really happy to be coaching here, really enjoying the kids, and the staff has been great. When you inherit a staff you never know what you are going to get. I had heard great things and they are awesome. They know their stuff and the kids respond to them very well. They are great to work with. I feel like we’ve made a lot of gains these last few weeks, very quickly, so that’s a good thing.

TR: What’s your impression of this group of kids?

JT: They are really good kids. There is a nice culture that has been built here these last couple years. The kids come to work hard at practice. I’ve named my captains, and they really took it upon themselves to take it to a whole other level the week after we named them captains. That was very encouraging. We have a nice mix of juniors and seniors. It’s nice because they take care of a lot of those issues coaches don’t want to deal with. If someone is not giving it in practice, they let them know about it. If we are flat or a little sloppy, they snap us back into it. Top to bottom, I’ve really enjoyed working with the kids.

TR: How have they accepted you into the program?

JT: I can’t speak all the way for them but I’d like to think that they appreciate that I’ve taken a lot of things that they were doing well, and kind of kept some of those things in place to make the transition easier. And then we’ve added some of my own philosophies that will benefit them. We had some kids who felt strongly about their basketball ability. They were looking for an opportunity to attack more, maybe play a little bit more transition, and that is more my style. We’ve been adding a lot of that stuff, but, a credit to them, they’ve kind of respected the balance of being able to do both. There’s no doubt about it. This team can run a great motion offense. And they can lock in, half-court defense and defend anybody. I just tried to add some things that I know how to teach well that I think will make us even more dynamic, and they’ve really responded well to taking on the new things but staying committed to what they already did well.

TR: After the initial two weeks of practice, what kind of progress have you seen from your team?

JT: Coaches grade practices every day, and I can only think of one practice that I’d say I don’t think fundamentally we got better. We are getting better at everything each day. I think our offenses have gotten better. Kids have gotten more understanding. I think kids have started understanding their roles and what I’m going to ask them to do. I think our defense was already pretty good but, in working through the different ways I see things in terms of pressure defense and some things that they were already doing well, I think we are really starting to find that balance of what kids can do and what different ways we can be successful.

TR: You got a lot of kids with a ton of experience. How is that going to help you guys on the court?

JT: The chemistry is already really good. That makes things easier as a coach. There are a lot of interchangeable parts. I treat that as a positive because you can have guys play different roles. With us looking to maybe push the pace more this year, we had to right away address the fact that we have to lengthen our bench. We obviously are bringing back six, seven guys with a good chunk of varsity experience, starting experience, so we really had to find the back end of our rotation. And I think these last two weeks we’ve really found that. Like any coach, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic of what our ability is going into this opening week.

TR: As you enter your first season here, what are your overall goals for the program?

JT: Starting off, I’m not going to be the coach that wastes what I think is a great foundation that Coach Fisher has built. I’m not going to squander that away. Our goals are more based on what these upperclassmen want to see for their basketball program. I think last year they feel like they took a lot of big steps but they did not reach their potential. They could have done more. And I think they are hungry to show that they fit in maybe with the elite in District Three. I told them you are never going to hear me say anything except that I’m playing for championships. I feel like these guys are seeing it that way. They know that if we start taking care of business on Friday in our tip-off tournament, then we look at our Christmas Tournament and another championship to win. Then it’s time to keep working through league play and see if we can be good enough to be the team that has a target on our backs. That has to be our goal or else we are not taking into the account all of the experience and talent we have.

If you continue to get better every day, there is no reason to sell yourself short and not think, OK, we are building toward being a district title competitor. My philosophy where I’ve been coaching before, and where I was an assistant before and played before, that’s always been what we were trying to preach in the off-season. We want to give kids the opportunity to play so much basketball all year round when they are available, because a lot of kids play other sports which I think is great, but we want to be a basketball town. We want to be a team that’s going to be competitive in the league and the district every single year. That takes a lot of time to build but I know right now we got a group of kids. You always need that group of kids in a program that kind of starts that. So now it’s time to continue to lay down the foundation from the elementary level on up to make basketball the household name in Ephrata.

TR: Let’s talk personnel. Obviously you have six or seven guys here who have played a lot of varsity basketball. Talk about them and the roles you see them filling.

JT: We return Dilyn Becker at point guard, a game manager with very high basketball IQ. He’s very, very coachable. He really drives our ability to be able to do different things, make the right decisions. He’s going to be a very big part of what we do both offensively and defensively. He has all the talent in the world. I would say potentially, the sky is the limit. He’s going to keep getting better every day because he works at it.

Then we have Brad DaBella, who is so versatile. I feel like he’s going to be one of the most versatile players in our section. He can guard anybody I ask him to guard. He can probably score any way I ask him to score. I think he’s going to go as far as his mentality will let him. He seems to be getting more comfortable. Every day, he seems to be really taking on his roles well so I think he’s going to have a big year.

And I can’t say enough about the experience Sam Cable brings. He’s been around the floor a long time. He has so much varsity experience and I would say Sam is our smartest basketball player. You can tell him to do something specific and he understand how to do it. He knows how to talk and communicate to his teammates to make them better.

Zack McGillan is going to be a huge part of what we do this year. He’s going to continue to grow and be a huge part. He can shoot the ball way more than he gives himself credit for. And I think he’s improving defensively.

And Xavian Rodriguez is athletic. He can run like a deer, he’s strong…he’s working very hard at becoming good at all the other intangibles of being a varsity basketball player. He’s improving his skillset, his motor is really high. He’s kind of like our non-senior leader that our whole team responds to…there is no doubt about it. They just respond to him. I think he is going to do big things for us this year.

And we are not hurting for other things too. Corbin Weaver and Holden Haws are two seniors who played JV last year and got a lot of minutes there. But I feel like they are ready to be contributors at the varsity level. They do things wildly different for us but they both bring it on defense and both work exceptionally hard and are exceptionally coachable so they fit in to the different roles of coming in and doing good things. We have Eli Basenga, a senior who is going to be athletic. As long as he keeps learning about being a varsity basketball player and keeps improving his understanding of the game, I can let him go be athletic more often, which is going to be a huge plus for us and make us a little more dynamic.

And I have a couple JV players that are going to play both to round out that back end. Jared Groff is a junior. I think for us to be ultimately successful we need to be able to get things out of him. He’s working hard every day and is getting better and better. He listens to our JV Coach Matthews like it’s gospel, and it’s paying off. He’s getting a lot better. We also have another junior, Alex Nelson, that I think will step in and kind of serve as a back-up point guard, be really good in spurts defensively, provide some energy. He has some talent and ability and I think he’s just going to keep getting better and better.

TR: The one guy missing this year is Brendan Holbritter. It such a shame for him but I see he’s still around the program. What’s his role going to be?

JT: We waited till the very end and were hoping for good news. But, I told him I want him to be as actively involved as possible so he’s kind of serving as a student coach, like a player coach. He’s obviously experienced and knows about players. All the kids like him. He’s just been great. He’s been as positive as you could ever imagine for being in his situation. He’s a good kid. I know it’s not what he envisioned for his senior year. I know it’s not what he wanted, but since the season started he’s been great about it. He’s like, “Coach, I want to be around as much as possible and help anyway I can. “I told him I’m going to try to make this the best experience I can for you. I hope that means that we’re winning games, and no matter how ever many games we win, you have to understand that a big part of our success this year is a credit to you. You are a big part of what this program has been able to start doing these last couple of years. I try to relay that to him as much as possible so that he does have that positive feeling about it. It’s heartbreaking though.

TR: This team obviously has a lot of positives going for it. What do you view as its greatest strengths?

JT: Leadership and experience is always the go-to when you have that many…there are not a lot of teams that can say they have that many varsity minutes logged as these guys did the last couple of years. That’s got to be our number one strength. On top of that, they take defense very personally. That spills into their team defense approach. Nobody wants to be the guy that is letting us down on defense. That’s been a very strong defensive unit. And offensively, it’s versatility. I really think we just have a lot of different ways to attack. I know last year they didn’t always score a lot of points, and I know that was a very good design to win basketball games. To be perfectly honest with you, if it doesn’t go well playing more up tempo, we aren’t going to re-invent the wheel. We are going to win basketball games however we can win basketball games. I respect (former EHS Coach Charlie) Fisher extremely. I know he knows what he’s doing and he taught really good things here so I’m going to rely on them. I think we are going to be a team with the ability to play more up tempo and have success. Maybe start off games at that higher tempo and then when it comes time to grind it out we are going to be able to do it. That’s versatility that you don’t always get in a high school basketball team.

TR: I know you said the sky is the limit but what do you feel is the potential of this team?

JT: These guys made the district tournament last year. In my opinion in viewing the games, I think they have the ability to win district tournament games. They have the make-up to win district tournament games. They play great defense and can run really solid offense, and that’s what every single district playoff game comes down to. So if we can add any sort of dynamic that takes us to the level of competing at the district championship level, I feel like that has to be our goal. If that’s not our goal, what are we doing here? That’s how I treat that.

TR: Turning to Section Two, which appears solid top to bottom. What team or teams do you expect to challenge?

JT: I don’t see any cakewalks. Donegal has a guard that was talented and they have a really good coach that came in. I can’t imagine them struggling. I think they are going to be good. Garden Spot can attack and probably play pressure defense as well as anybody we play. They will come after you. If you let them get rolling, that’s going to be trouble. Cocalico is a rivalry. Our kids are going to be fired up, Cocalico is going to be fired up…they have good athletes and have kids that can really score. Then you move on from there. L-S has some stuff. I mean, (Ryan Smith is) 6-9 and athletic…no one has an answer for that so that’s one of those games that’s going to take a team that’s playing really solid to be able to compete with them. And then you have Manheim Central. I know they had an extremely talented group of underclassmen. I know they lost a lot and it’s hard to replace that. But I also know that they are not going to go through any sort of transition because they are getting a coach back that is familiar with the program. And you don’t win at the high school level for the stretch of years that they just won and it just goes away. That’s a school district that is accustomed to winning in the fall and in the winter. I don’t see the breathers in our section. I think there is going to be a lot of really good basketball. There are a lot of really good coaches. In my opinion, I coached against some of the best coaches I’ve seen. I would say Wilson’s head coach and Governor Mifflin’s head coach are two fantastic basketball coaches. And Reading’s coach really has done a nice job making that program tick and to get those athletes to respond to him. So I’ve been playing against some heavyweights and I know what it’s like to be in those fights every single night. I don’t see it being any different over here. I’m excited. I tell the kids every day, the bull’s eye should be on your back. But until we get a few weeks into the season, I don’t know who is going to have that bull’s eye. Someone is going to play better than somebody else and it’s going to be wild

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