By Jeff Budlong
The Red Cloud boys basketball team came up one game short of the state tournament last year. That bitter taste has Crusader head coach Matt Rama guiding a very determined team this season.
Gone from the team are standout seniors like all-state selection Carl Swallow and Steven Vitalis, but that doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare by any stretch at Red Cloud.
“Carl was an exceptional player and we needed him last year, but now we have a lot of players that have waited their turn and are ready to have their chance,” said Rama who watched his team fall to St. Thomas More in the region final. “We should be a pretty deep team with some good experience.”
Leading the way for the Crusaders is senior point guard Kiley Weston, who Rama said is the coach on the floor.
“Kiley has been on varsity since he was a freshman and that comes with a wealth of experience,” he said. “He makes it real easy because he knows what I want and there is no guessing.”
Weston will be joined by Bobby Hernandez, who was the team’s second leading scorer last year. Brandon Two Bulls, Tristen Long, Lyle Jacobs and Devin Goulette are all back and will provide the Crusaders with the combination of length, size and speed they have become known for.
“We have pretty good size and we are speedy,” Rama said. “We will look to force the tempo. That is kind of what we are known for around here.”
Having eight seniors on the team, Rama has already noticed something a little different about this group of players.
“This is one of the more motivated groups we have had,” he said. “We had a lot of people take a back seat to Carl and a whole bunch of kids are ready to step up. I am really excited.
“This is a high-energy and highly motivated group that wants to be a tough team. You can see it in their eyes. We definitely weren’t this intense last year at this point.”
The Crusaders will be capable of knocking down the 3-pointer and with several players at 6-foot-4 or taller on the team, they will be able to work in the paint as well.
Rama said one area he wants to see his team improve is on the defensive end of the floor.
“We have to defend and rebound the ball but those are keys for any team,” he said. “Custer is going to be tough, Pine Ridge is going to be tough and we know about St. Thomas More. We can’t worry about other teams, we have to worry about how we play.”
The Crusaders hope that level of play is strong enough to send it back to the Class A state tournament for the first time in two years.