MAHOMET — Mahomet-Seymour basketball will always have high expectations. That’s what you want surrounding your program.
The Bulldogs finished with only 12 wins last year and were under .500 for the first time since 2012-13. It wasn’t that big of a surprise.
Ryan Bosch was taking over for veteran coach Chad Benedict. Cory Noe — one of the best players to ever don an M-S jersey — had moved on to play basketball for Illinois Wesleyan, and multi-year starter Noah Benedict had also graduated. Those were three key losses that weren’t easy to replace.
Bosch could easily point to the brutal schedule or a roster filled with inexperienced players. But he doesn’t. M-S’ head man is fully focused on Year Two, and it could be a really special year. The pieces are certainly there. The Bulldogs completed their busy summer and it was highly productive. They went to Purdue and played well. They also went to Lincoln and Illinois Wesleyan for tournaments while hosting summer league games every Tuesday night.
“There’s a level of comfort about who guys are an what they bring to the table amongst themselves and with me now,” Bosch said.
“The summer was this nice dialogue of where we were and what we’re doing well and what people were exposing us too offensively or defensively. I think there were a lot of good stretches of basketball. You take it with a grain of salt because we don’t have all of our pieces and most of the time, you’re playing schools that don’t have all of their guys.”
Senior Grant Coleman led the team in scoring last year at more than 20 points per game, and the forward had a strong summer. Coleman received Division I offers from Southeast Missouri State and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. More could be on the way.
“I’m obviously thrilled for him,” Bosch said. “You love to see any kid in your program reach their goals. This is something that he’s wanted for a really long time, and he’s worked really hard for. I’m happy for him that there are people out there that are appreciating his game and what he brings as a ballplayer and a person to a program. Everyone is excited for him and for the program as a whole because it’s good recognition. I can see this being a stepping-stone for him.”
Coleman’s profile will certainly rise, and after dropping a ton of buckets on teams last year, he will be the No. 1 guy on the scouting report yet again. But M-S will have plenty more options. Senior guard Cole Lener and senior forward Kobe Essien both did a lot of good things last winter, and junior forward Braden Finch plays with a toughness and tenacity that the Bulldogs really needed.
Finch was busy this summer playing in basketball tournaments, going to football camps and also preparing to be M-S football’s starting quarterback. Essien was at plenty of baseball showcases as the hard-throwing hurler aims to put himself in position to play college baseball. But Lener was in the gym all summer long. Lener finished fourth in scoring and second in rebounding for M-S last year, but he could be ready to take over as the Bulldogs’ main ball-handler in 2019-20 and really flex his muscles.
“Cole is just an unbelievable workhorse,” Bosch said. “He’s the epitome of what you want a senior to be. I don’t value Cole Lener by just the box score because he does so much for us that doesn’t show up there. The couple of times where he left us in the summer, it really showed. Some of our biggest struggles were when Cole wasn’t there. He makes the whole thing go. He’s the kind of kid that coaches love. He’s a huge part of our success in the upcoming season. The way he defends, the way he facilitates, the way he can score. He’s been great in this summer lead-up to his senior year.”
It won’t just be the Grant Coleman Show in 2019-20. Sure, Coleman will likely be the top scorer, but M-S has options behind him. Finch, Essien and Lener are really nice pieces who could all be starters, and junior guard Eli Warren was impressive this spring before going down with a broken arm.
“Expectations for Eli Warren to come out and compete for a starting spot,” Bosch said. “He was playing as well as anybody in the spring and during open gyms but he went down with an injury. He’s a kid who can really handle the ball, can get into the paint at will and he’s a really tenacious defender. I’m anxious to see that dynamic when he can join the whole group and see where it looks like.”
Senior Nic Liagridonis, sophomore Luke Koller and sophomore Tyler Ukin have also caught Bosch’s eye during the summer. Liagradonis is a gritty senior who will do all the dirty work. Koller stands at 6-foot-4 and Ukin is all of 6-foot-5. There’s a potential for M-S to trot out some big lineups featuring a combination of Coleman, Koller and Ukin.
“If you want to talk about where our ceiling lies, those two sophomores could be really big pieces,” Bosch added.
The Bulldogs are focused on getting back to their winning ways this winter. This summer was a positive step in the right direction.
“As far as the level of competition that we played and the level we played at, I was really pleased,” Bosch said. “We talk a lot about the standard is against ourselves, not anyone else. How good can we be? That’s how we want to measure ourselves. There were a lot of stretches where we did a nice job of showing people our full potential.”