New Branson boys basketball head coach Mike Linehan is being tasked with turning around a Branson team that finished 5-21 last year. Linehan was assistant on Kickapoo’s basketball team last year. Prior to that he was an assistant at Evangel and was named the Class 1 Coach of the Year in 2011 for leading Dadeville to a state runner-up finish.
He will have to navigate an always-tough COC Large and Class 5 schedule, but he believes his team is up to improving on last year’s record.
“Our team feels like they are able to compete better than last year’s record shows. They are excited and hungry to improve upon last year’s record,” Linehan said. “They understand that in order to do that we have to cut down turnovers and work as a team to create higher percentage shots. They are playing hard this offseason and showing a lot of grit on the defensive end.”
The Pirates graduated three players in Hunter Weber, Nick Dapprich and Brandt Morrow from last year’s team. Weber was the team’s leading scorer at 14.9 points per game. Dapprich was just behind him at 11.4 points per game.
Senior Zach Johnson will provide some leadership this year, as he is the leading returning scorer after averaging 10.8 points per game last year. He also pulled down 5.7 rebounds per game.
Classmates Collin Pepper and Cameron Banks also each played in more than 20 varsity games last season. Pepper posted a line of 5.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists per night last year. Pepper scored 3.2 points and pulled down 4.1 rebounds per game.
Sophomore Gabe Sylvester will see an expanded role on varsity after he played in three games last year that saw him average 15 points per game in his limited time.
“Gabe is a young guard who does not play or act like an underclassman on the floor,” Linehan said. “He is quick and has a good shot with a lot of range. He will score for us, but will also be good at setting up his teammates for scoring opportunities.”
Seniors Michael Allison, Nick Pead and Johnny Christianson will be new to the team this year. Allison and Christianson both took last season off but return to the court this year. Allison, who stands at 6’4, will provide some much-needed size to the Branson roster. Pead is a move-in who played varsity basketball for his school in Alaska.
Junior Trey Bernard is another move-in from Texas that will provide immediate varsity help.
This strong group of upperclassmen will provide Branson with a solid base of on-court leadership.
“I am excited about our leadership this year,” Linehan said. “We have a large group of juniors and seniors who are all working very hard to improve upon last year’s record. I have been very impressed with their off season work ethic and intensity. The conference is very strong as usual and we look forward to competing each night with everyone on our schedule.”
Linehan expects the mix of upperclassmen and a high-level of intensity to pay off in 2017-18.
“We have challenged our team to maintain a very high level of intensity in every practice and every game,” Linehan said. “Our number one goal will be to maintain that high level of intensity throughout, what is always a long basketball season. If we can sustain that level of concentration and intensity, our record will take care of itself.”
Branson opens the season on Nov. 21 at Harrison (Ark.).