LEO-CEDARVILLE — It’s not very often a team is game tested without deep senior leadership.
But, Leo boys basketball coach Cary Cogdell isn’t exactly complaining.
Cogdell, now in this 18th season as a head coach, says the type of leadership displayed by just seniors makes it as unique as any team he’s ever had.
“The guys we have are really good leaders and really accepting of the underclassmen, and the underclassmen are pretty good basketball players,” Cogdell said. “Our seniors have allowed the underclassmen to be who they are. That’s not always the case. I really like the culture of this team.”
When Leo hosts South Side in the season opener, the Lions will have a squad that is focused and unified.
“I tell our players we are looking for guys who put the team first,” Cogdell said. “That’s being coachable, working hard and creating good chemistry.”
The dynamic of hard work, sacrifice and emphatic senior leadership goes a long way in building the bottom line, according to Cogdell.
“It’s never been an issue (at Leo),” he said. “But, this group takes it to a different level. We’ve never had in-fighting, but this is a group that really likes being around each other. There’s a crossover. It doesn’t matter if you are a sophomore or you are senior. They hang out together. It’s just different.”
Codgell reasoned, “If you do that, you reach your potential and you do that by having a good culture.”
The Lions return four bonafide starters from an 8-13 squad. But another three or four players could make a case for being starters based on their contributions in 2018-19.
“We have a lot of guys back, guys who played minutes, significant minutes,” Cogdell said. “It’s a selfless team. We don’t have seniors who feel a need to go out with a bang. They are comfortable leaders.”
Those seniors are guards Chase Bates (5-foot-11) and Andrew Tchaz (6-foot). Both bring plenty of experience and a solid team concept. Tchaz is driver, while Bates is a shooter who brings a solid defense.
A 5-11 junior guard, Blake Davidson, poured in 17.4 points and six rebounds per contest while hitting 43.6% from the field, including 32 percent from behind the arch last season.
Davidson was a first-team NE8 player.
“He does everything pretty well. He will be asked to take on more of a leadership role,” Cogdell said.
Eric Steger, like Davidson, started every game and chipped in with 8.1 points per game and 2.6 rebounds. Cogdell is looking for a consistent season from Steger.
DJ Allen, a second-team all NE8 player, was also in the thick of things with 9.7 points per game and 5.3 boards. With a summer of hard work, Allen will take on a bigger role.
Zach Troyer played in 17 games last season and should see more minutes in 2019-20. The 6-foot-6 junior has ratcheted up his game. Cogdell knows he’s got experience and talent, but he’s concerned about the ups and downs early on with a young squad.
Admittedly, there are no glaring weaknesses. But one thing is nagging Cogdell.
“Are we going to have two or three good games, then have a let down?” he asked. “I worry about the differences from game to game. We have size, we have good guards and shooters and depth, but will we have steady play?
The potential is there, but how soon can the Lions arrive?
“We are still young,” Cogdell said. “I really think we will get better because we are young, I really think we’ll be better at the end of the season. They are further along. We were babies last year. Now you see a physical difference in them six months later. It’s still early.”