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Perimeter-focused Knights ready to bounce back in 2019-20

December 3, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Dysart Reporter

2018-19 Record: 2-18 (L to Beckman Cath. in 1st Round of Districts)

Head Coach Dan Hensing

2018 saw the arrival of Dan Hensing to Union as head coach of varsity basketball. The program had experienced turnover in recent years and the players appeared ready to reverse their fortunes. However, team chemistry and a tough conference slate led to only two wins for the program during the season.

Article Photos

Front left to right: Caleb Reel, Cameron Bruess, Jacob Carey, Brayden Grosse, Gavin Moore, Wesley Thiele, Nolan Miehe, Middle: Dominick Silici-Wheeler, Brandon Tompkins, Altankhishig Gagaa, Jordan Carey, Trevor Davis, Chase Hoy, Back: Henry Powers, Ethan Clark, River Grote, Reece DeVries, Devin Reel, Keegan Block, TJ Freeland, Marc Mahood.

"Last season was definitely a learning curve for me, yet I feel we got better as the season went along after a slow start," Hensing said. "The record didn't show it, but we were a better team by the end of the season. There were conference games we got beat by 30+ early on and we played them again only to lose by single digits."

Yet positives did come out of their 2018-19 campaign. Though Union has been labelled a "non-shooting team" in previous years, the Knights found their best success in January and February shooting the three behind then-juniors Keegan Block and Caleb and Devin Reel.

"Last season is out of the back of our heads and we're focused on this season's team chemistry going," Block said. "We played better at the end as we developed chemistry with the Reels and I shooting as many threes as we wanted."

Year two for Hensing and the Knights will see those shooting trends continue as all three guards return as starters for the 2019 season. Rounding out the Union guards will be senior Brayden Grosse and junior Brandon Tompkins after turning heads on the JV squad last season.

"We're very excited with the guys we have this season," Hensing said. "We have four guys that have varsity starting experience in Keegan , Caleb, Devin, and Brayden Grosse. They should be able to put the ball in the hole this year with these shooters and they'll be seniors with confidence. Brandon had a good fall and I definitely see him being in the mix as well."

Block led the Knights in scoring (12.8 ppg) and assists (48 last season) after gradually earning minutes as the 2018-19 season went along, scoring 36 points at Columbus Catholic in the final regular season game. Since their season-ending loss at Beckman, the senior has been developing his pull-up and mid-range game as well as playmaking as the primary point guard for the Knights this season.

"We will be shooting the three a lot again this season," Block said. "Dan was joking with his buddies that we should lead the nation in attempts this season. It will be a big factor in our success and if we're knocking them down, we should be fine. The Reels will be big and Brandon Thompkins will get more minutes this season."

Hensing had seen the potential in Block earlier in the previous season, especially on the offensive side. The longtime coach expects a big year out of the point guard and feels the next step for him will be getting his teammates involved on the perimeter.

"Keegan never forces it and lets the game come to him," Hensing said. "I have complete faith in him when it comes to scoring. Getting other guys involved will be huge. You can't just single handedly stop Keegan when you have other guards who can shoot. He'll get a lot of assists this season."

Last year's graduated class depleted Union's frontcourt, yet Hensing sees potential in senior Marc Mahood under the basket and junior Reece DeVries as another big post after a successful JV season last year.

"We have a couple of guys who can fit that role and guard posts this season," Hensing said. "We might have to play small ball at times and other times run more stuff for our posts, depending on the scouting report."

For the Knights to continue their success on the perimeter, brothers Caleb and Devin Reel will need to continue their hot shooting as they combined for 58-187 (31 percent) on three point attempts. However, Caleb (7.1 ppg) believes the team has more in store offensively than simply making threes.

"We have a lot more coming back than we lost from last year," Reel said. "We've been working in the offseason to keep us in the same rhythm we had at the end of last season. Keegan knows what to do and Brandon knows what to do as he plays more in varsity. Teams know we're a shooting team, but I also feel we're better at finishing and we can drive more this season."

Defensively, Reel believes the Knights can use their length on the perimeter and on-ball defense from Grosse to create turnovers and prevent easy buckets for opponents. Hensing adds that defense will be the difference between an improved record or staying in the basement of the NICL East conference.

"It will be a matter of if we can stop people," Hensing said. "It will be our focus in practice. We tried several different zones last year and by Christmas times, I decided to commit to man-to-man and defense got better. You'll see different defense, but you'll see man defense a lot from us this season."

Coaching continuity has also been a plus for the boys this offseason and going into their second season better in tune with Hensing's game plan.

"Dan came into this school and really worked hard for us," Reel said. "I know the coaching in the past wasn't something everyone agreed with. We're behind him even with only two wins last season. He's a good coach for us."

Once again, the NICL East will be a difficult conference slate for the Knights. After reaching the State tournament in 2019 and losing several key seniors, Dike-New Hartford will still remain a team to beat. Aplington-Parkersburg and Wapsie Valley will also be squads to watch.

"I told people how shocked I was last season with how good our conference was," Hensing said. "I'm an area guy, but being in those gyms and being down big is totally different. It's going to be tough again this season, but we are going to make a huge step forward this time around."

Team chemistry, defense and continuing their shooting streak from last season will all play their part in Union's 2019-2020 season, but perhaps the biggest difference in this year's team has been the confidence of the seniors.

"This conference is winnable," Reel said. "I know I've seen preseason rankings having us at eighth in conference. I know we are going to surprise people. Individually, I want to play good defense because I feel confident in our offense. We need to rebound this year. Even if we don't have much height this year, we have heart."

"I feel if everything goes well for us defensively and developing our chemistry, we can beat anyone," Hensing added. "If things continue from last season, anyone can beat us. We've got to play and coach hard. Team unity will help determine if we win or lose."

Union will open its season at Vinton-Shellsburg on Thursday, Dec. 5 and continue on the road at A-P on Tuesday, Dec. 10.



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