At Batavia, Jim Nazos has big shoes to fill. He'll be assisted by plenty of players well-versed in Bulldogs basketball.
Nazos, a veteran himself with 12 seasons as Wheaton North's head coach who still teaches business at the school, has the unenviable role of succeeding Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Roberts, who resigned to spend more time with his family. Roberts retired with a record of 455-269 in 27 seasons all with Batavia.
"You can't replace Coach Roberts," said Nazos, who among others retained assistant Anthony Williams and added Batavia graduate Nick Marsh to his staff. "I'm just kind of the guy who's coaching the team right now. He's got his own status and deservedly so. I feel honored to be part of the basketball program and the community."
A Batavia resident the past six years, the motion offense and man defense aficionado said he speaks with Roberts about once a week. The Hall of Famer can tell him plenty about this year's players, many of whom played last year.
Only big Cole Gardner, who averaged nearly a double-double with 16.4 points and 9.3 rebounds, graduated from last season's starting playoff lineup. Back are forward Zach Strittmatter, point guard Mike Rueffer and off-guards Micah Coffey and Jake Pollack. Forwards Luke Horton and Tucker Knox and 6-foot-6 center Mike Carlson saw key minutes last season.
"It's always good when you have experience coming back," said Nazos, who also has newcomers Ryan Olson, a 6-3 junior forward, and junior guard Jeremy Schoessling.
"There's a lot of seniors on the team. That's always good," he said. "What I see right now is seniors who work and seniors who lead by example. That's a great start to anything you want to have."
A high school as steeped in basketball history and success as Batavia will want to have a conference title. The Bulldogs' experience should have them compete with the two St. Charles schools, Geneva and Larkin in the Upstate Eight's River Division.
Rueffer and the 6-5 Strittmatter are each three-year starters. Rueffer averaged 7.7 points, 4.1 assists and 4 rebounds in 2011-12, while the poised Strittmatter finished second on the team to Gardner with 9.2 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Unless something crazy happens Coffey will be a three-year starter by the time he's through. The junior led Batavia in 3-pointers with 33 and averaged 5.8 points. Pollack, the team leader in steals, averaged 7 points.
Nazos said he only got a couple weeks worth of summer experience with the players, so both sides are still learning about each other.
"Everything's going well so far," he said. "I think it's going to be a process. We've just got to take it one step at a time and hopefully where we're at in a month or so is where we want to be."
One thing Batavia will want to be is better shooters. Last season they made only 23 percent of their 3-point shots, dropping their overall percentage to 36 percent. Carlson was the only regular who made better than 50 percent from the floor, at 51 percent. From the foul line the Bulldogs shot 59 percent. They also committed 307 turnovers to 235 assists though Rueffer was on the right side of the assist-turnover margin.
To an extent Nazos will take what a defense gives but he'd like to control tempo, primarily fast-paced. At Wheaton North when he had decent size -- as Batavia does -- he tried to capitalize on it. When he had a shorter group of shooters, they took their share of threes. He's got both components here.
Nazos doesn't want to target a certain number of wins, but maintains his annual goal of winning a conference championship.
"We're concentrating on doing things a certain way," he said, "and hopefully it leads to wins down the road."
Coach: Jim Nazos (first year; 13th overall, 178-154)
Last year: 7-19, 3-9, sixth in the Upstate Eight River
Key players: Micah Coffey, jr., G; Jake Pollack, G, sr.; Mike Rueffer, G, sr.; Zach Strittmatter, F, sr.
Skinny: Experience returns in first year post-RobertsCopyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.