If two words had to be used to describe the Union boys basketball Wildcats, those would be the words.
Head Coach Chris Simmons returns two starters from last year’s 6-19 team which went 2-5 in the Four Rivers Conference.
“We have a whole slew of kids moving up from last year’s JV and most of them are going to have to be thrown in the fire from the beginning,” Simmons said. “They were all very committed over the summer and we really improved which has better prepared us for the season and has hopefully reduced the learning curve for these kids.”
The Wildcats open the season next Monday, Tuesday and Saturday in the Borgia Turkey Tournament. The Wildcats have rejoined that event this year and have been assigned to Gold Division Pool C.
Union will face:
• Washington Monday at 8:30 p.m.; and
• O’Fallon Christian Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Additionally, Union will play a third game on Saturday. The time will depend on where Union finishes in the pool.
Simmons, in his second year at Union and fourth season in the coaching ranks, returns junior Nick Ziegler and senior Brian Borgmann.
“These two are the cornerstones of our team because of their experience and skill level,” Simmons said. “Both of them have spent a lot of time working on their game and have made large steps forward in their game. They have both done a great job of leading the younger guys and I believe that both will have a great season.”
Ziegler, a 5-11 guard, led the Wildcats in scoring last season with 13.1 points per game. Additionally, he averaged four rebounds per game, to rank second on the team in that category. He dished out 2.3 assists per game while averaging 0.8 of a steal per contest.
Borgmann, at 6-9, brings the height. He averaged 5.2 points per game with 3.8 rebounds per contest. He also had 1.3 blocked shots per game to go with 0.5 of an assist and 0.2 of a steal per contest.
Overall, the Wildcats have just two seniors on this year’s team. Joining Borgmann is Trey Fink, a 6-0 senior forward.
With so many youngsters, Simmons has simple goals for this season.
“This may sound very cliche, but my goal for this season is to go out every day in practice and get better,” Simmons said. “With us having such a young group of kids, it is essential that we have that mentality every day. This team has a journey approach rather than a destination approach.”
The Wildcats have gotten some unexpected help as well. Alex Moss, a 6-0 junior guard, has come to the Wildcats from Bourbon.
“Austin will make a contribution to our team this year,” Simmons said. “He plays very hard and has a good nose for the ball, but is still learning the game and learning how to play at the higher levels.”
Union’s younger newcomers to the varsity level are:
• Junior Tanner Bunch (5-11 guard);
• Junior Andrei Ciot (6-0 forward);
• Junior Kevin Curran (5-11 guard);
• Sophomore Dillon Breeden (6-0 guard); and
• Sophomore Nick Kretzler (6-0 forward).
Additionally, Simmons will have freshman Ethan Hughes, a 6-1 guard, playing as a swing player between the varsity and JV levels.
“He has done an excellent job in practice of taking everything in,” Simmons said. “He has a lot of upside because he can shoot the ball and has good size for a guard.”
Assistant coaches this year are Cedric Brown, former Union Head Coach Steve Neier and former Union standout Jordan Connell.
Overall, Simmons is impressed with what he’s seen so far.
“We have not seen any selfishness in this group and I truly believe that this is a group that will fight for each other,” Simmons said. “The key will be for each player to excel at his role, which I think we can do.”
Simmons said Union will make mistakes, but hopes the team learns lessons.
“We are going to make a lot of mistakes because of our youth, but how we learn to respond to those mistakes will determine our success,” Simmons said. “We will have our rough spots, but we also will have some times where it will all come together. I like the group that we have. It will take some time, but the farther we get into the season, the better we will get.”