There is a simple solution, in Friends coach Dale Faber’s mind, to overcoming the loss of NAIA Division II Player of the Year Joe Mitchell.
“We averaged something like 90 points per game,” Faber said. “The key this year is to not need 90 points per game. Two things you always have control of, I’ve been reminding our guys, are defense and rebounding.”
Seems simple enough.
Until you consider the Falcons didn’t just lose Mitchell. All told, Friends lost 76.7 of 88.8 points to graduation off of last season’s KCAC championship and NAIA Division II quarterfinal team that set the school record with 27 wins.
Mitchell averaged 32.3 points and three other departed players — Colton Rausch, Zach Nelson and Anthony White — also averaged in double figures.
So, while the Falcons might not need almost 90 points per game, the scoring is going to have to come from somewhere.
Friends’ lone returning starter and leading returning scorer is 6-foot-1 point guard Brett Williams, a Plano, Texas, native who averaged 5.6 points and 2.4 assists.
“It’s basically a new team,” Williams said. “We’ve got a little more work to do to be as consistent as we need to be on defense, but I think the chemistry is there and things are coming along a lot faster than we thought they would.
“Personally, I feel like I learned a lot from Joe and Zach last year, about the game and how to approach a season in general. They were a great influence, a great way to learn how to step into that leadership role.”
That new team will be tested early — the Falcons’ first seven games and 10 of the first 11 on the road.
“That’s on purpose,” Faber said of the first seven games away from home. “I want to see what they’re made of early. You learn a lot about your team when they’re playing on the road.”
Which means role players from last season will have to figure out, quickly, that their role now is to play a key role in winning games.
Two such players will be 6-6 forward Larry Anderson and 6-7 forward Chris Sponsel, a Garden Plain product. The two averaged a combined 3.5 points.
“One thing that is going to help us is that we have a new offense, a different offense that is going to fit our personnel a little better,” Anderson said. “A lot more ball movement, moving the ball around a lot faster. Last year, because we were able to, we could go one-on-one on offense at times.”
Friends will have no such luxury this season.
But it still has Faber, who has led the Falcons to the national tournament four times in 11 seasons — also the only national tournament appearances for Friends.
“I got quite spoiled last year,” Faber said. “The thing that a good group of seniors can do for you ... it allows you to concentrate on so much more toward getting prepared for other basketball teams. Last year, there were no academic issues, no off-court issues, no infighting ... just great teammates.
“And this team has the capability of doing those things, but even as in last year, there are growing pains.”
Boothe builds Falcons into national power — Friends coach RaeAnne Boothe has done a lot in a short amount of time.
Entering her fifth year, Boothe has won two KCAC titles, two KCAC coach of the year awards and led the Falcons to three straight trips to the NAIA Division II tournament.
And she’s done it with defense. Along with coaching two KCAC Defensive Players of the Year, including senior guard Kayla Mollere, the Falcons finished in the top 10 in the country in three defensive categories last season. Third in scoring defense at 57.18 points, sixth in steals and 10th in defensive rebounding.