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Getting after it: Trojans boys basketball team athletic

First-year Worthington High School head boys basketball coach CJ Nelson isn’t about to concede a thing. Though the Trojans graduated a huge chunk of their offense after a 9-11 season, Nelson is preparing this new team to hit the ground running -- almost literally.

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Worthington Trojans boys basketball veterans are (from left) Mikele Walu, Charlie Brands, Cooper McCoy, Jake Brandner, Abagotte Opiew and Marenono Opiew. Tim Middagh / The Globe

WORTHINGTON -- First-year Worthington High School head boys basketball coach CJ Nelson isn’t about to concede a thing. Though the Trojans graduated a huge chunk of their offense after a 9-11 season, Nelson is preparing this new team to hit the ground running -- almost literally.

“The biggest thing is we’re going to get after people. We’re not taking plays off. We’re going to go after people until we gotta take ourselves out of the game. Then we’ll put some subs in and they’re going to do the same thing,” he said Tuesday night as the WHS girls and boys basketball squads introduced themselves to fans at “Tip-Off Night” at the local gym.

In 2021-22 the WHS boys will be without graduates Terbuto Ochothow and Brock Bruns, who the team relied on for much of its offense under then-head coach Clint Meyer. But every year is a new opportunity, and for many Trojans with little or no varsity experience, the future is now.

“Every day at practice is going to be a competition for us. We really have 12-14 guys who can help us on varsity on any given night,” Nelson said.

Don’t worry. There are experienced players, too. Senior Jake Brandner, a forward-center, is the one with the most significant varsity experience. Junior guards Abagotte Opiew and Marenono Opiew have also seen varsity time. Brandner, the quarterback on the football team, is an intelligent player with leadership qualities. Abagotte might be the most athletic player on the team, and he’s a good rebounder and defensive player. Marenono has skills similar to Abagotte, and he’s known as an intense competitor.

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Two other juniors deserve mention. They are point guard Mikele Walu, who is quick, and 6-4 center Charlie Brands, who Nelson describes as a “rebounding machine.”

Nelson likes his team’s athleticism. There’s a fair amount of size, but others make up for their average height with their fitness and agility.

The Trojans will stress defense and rebounding, and pushing the ball up the floor will also be a big focus.

“We want to be the toughest defenders in the (Big South) conference. Defense is going to lead our offense,” said Nelson, who adds that there will be a lot of man-to-man coverage, and some pressing.

“We’re going to try to put some people in bad positions and get them to make a mistake,” he said.

Brandner concurs.

“We have a lot of athletic ability on our team. We don’t have a lot of size. We just have a lot of athletic guys. I think we should have a pretty good season,” he said. “At practice, everybody is battling for a spot. We have a lot more competition than in a lot of years.”

It was suggested to Nelson that the Trojans may lack depth, but the new coach disagreed. He said he’s not lacking for players who can compete at a varsity level, though some of them are untested there.

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“Our junior and sophomore classes are very talented. There are a lot of kids -- it’s just going to be a lot of kids who are competing,” said the coach. “I hope that we can get better every day this year. We’ve got a lot of expectations for the next few years. But our focus is now, for this year.”

The loss of Ochothow and Bruns, who could both light up the scoreboard on any given night, will be something to account for. But Nelson expects his team to score and hopes to have four players in double digits for every game.

For some outsiders, that goal might seem hard to attain, but if the Trojans can find the energy to “get after people” the way Nelson envisions, it should translate into an eye-opening winter campaign.

“We just gotta come ready to play every day,” Nelson stresses. “We’ve got to rely on our bench to keep us active. The bottom line is, we’re going to have some tough games. But we need to be able to push through it.”

The WHS boy hoopsters play their first game of the season Thursday at home against non-conference rival Southwest Minnesota Christian, which compiled a 19-3 record last season.

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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