In the four seasons Brady Trenkle has served as the head coach of the Garden City Community College men’s basketball team, he has relied heavily on sophomore transfers, and the bulk of his rotations are comprised of those second-year players.
That was especially true last season, when he played just one freshman for limited minutes and had 11 sophomores in his usual rotation.
In 2014-15, Trenkle had seven freshmen on his active roster, the most he’s had in four seasons. He has 10 this season, and just four sophomores, as the Busters are set to open the regular season at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Conestoga Arena against Sterling College.
“We’re young, but we play hard,” Trenkle said late last week. “There’s a lot of new guys, so it’s going to be interesting to start. We’re still trying to figure out how to mesh them a little bit.”
Last season, with sophomores throughout the roster, the Busters began the season well, going 6-3 in the Jayhawk Conference before the winter break in the conference schedule. They slowed down a bit in January, going 4-4, before falling apart late, ending the conference slate at 2-7 in February and losing in the Region VI first round, finishing the season at 16-15 overall.
Trenkle hopes having more freshmen on the roster will help reverse that trend, referencing the success a youthful Butler squad had late, making a run to the region’s final four.
“They made it there in the end, and they were young,” Trenkle said of the Grizzlies, who lost in the semifinals to eventual national champion Hutchinson, 105-103. “They had a hard schedule to start, but at the end, they were better. That’s what we wanted.”
Plus, talent trumps experience sometimes.
“Sometimes in recruiting, when a good player comes along, it doesn’t matter,” Trenkle said. “I think that happened early with us. We signed some really good kids out of high school that you’re not going to turn down.”
One of those first-year players is Jamir Thomas of Passaic, N.J. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward likely is a contender for freshman of the year in the conference.
The Busters also have brought in freshman Russhard Cruickshank, a top 6-foot point guard out of Dallas, and 6-11 center Jeff Otchere, who had double-digit blocks in an intrasquad scrimmage, Trenkle said.
“I’m not saying he will, but he has the ability to lead the nation in blocks,” Trenkle said.
The Busters also bring in a couple of in-state freshmen in Tanner Smith of Wichita Independent and Elijah Kelly of Wichita East. Trenkle isn’t without his usual sophomore transfers, either, bringing in Seward County transfer Pierre Johnson, who played under new Buster assistant Patrick Nee last season.
The guard played 34 minutes per game for the Saints last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.0 assists per game, before joining the Busters.
“We look real good,” Johnson said of his early impressions of his team. “We’ve got a lot of young guys, but don’t let that fool you. We’ve got a lot of talent out here, a lot of good pieces. We should be really great this year.”
The Busters also brought in Theo Holloway, who reached the NJCAA tournament with Vincennes, Ind., two seasons ago, averaging 7.5 ppg.
Elvis Harvey is an Illinois State transfer and Kendale Hampton played for Ranger (Texas) College last season. The only returners are a pair of red-shirts from a year ago, 6-7 forward Thadd Middleton of North Charleston, S.C. and Garden City High School graduate Erwin Neal.
“There’s different pieces that we have, but it’s going to take some time,” Trenkle said. “It’s a long season for a reason. I don’t want to be good early. I want to be good in late January, February. That’s when we’re going to hit our stride this year.”
The Busters open the conference schedule on Nov. 11 at Butler, after four non-conference games to begin the season.