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Panthers relying on quickness

Matt Brandt is instilling an up-tempo style of play as he takes over as head coach of the Park Rapids boys basketball team.

With a roster dominated by guards, Brandt is relying on team quickness to produce success this season.

"We're going to spread the floor and take advantage of our quickness," said Brandt, who was the Panthers' B squad coach last season after serving two years as a junior high coach. "We're going to push the ball and get up and down the floor. We're going to be a fun team to watch."

Leading the Panthers are five players who saw significant minutes on last year's team that finished with a 6-20 record. That group features senior guard Paul Dirks, senior forward Dillon Theis, senior guard Mitch Long, senior guard Roth Mattson and junior guard Taylor Kimball. Dirks, Long and Theis will serve as captains.

Dirks was third on the team in scoring last season with 174 points (6.7 per game) and led the team with 52 steals. Dirks also had 78 rebounds and 39 assists in 26 games. Dirks shot 38.7 percent from the field (53 for 137, including 11 for 42 on 3-pointers) and 59.3 percent at the line (35 for 59).

Theis averaged 5.7 points and 4.0 rebounds a game last season. In 25 games, Theis scored 143 points, grabbed 100 rebounds and had 22 steals had 18 assists. Theis shot 51.3 percent from the field (59 for 115) and 74.2 percent at the line (23 for 31).

Long played in 22 games and averaged 4.6 points and 3.0 rebounds a game. Long shot 60.3 percent from the field (44 for 73) and 50 percent at the line (14 for 28) and had 102 points, 65 rebounds, 34 assists and 15 steals.

Mattson played in all 26 games and scored 58 points (2.2 per game) and had 27 rebounds, 25 assists and 15 steals. Mattson shot 27 percent from the field (17 for 63, including 12 for 41 on 3-pointers) and 40 percent at the line (12 for 30).

Kimball moved up to the varsity midway through the season and played in 16 games, scoring 49 points (3.1 per game) with seven rebounds and four steals. Kimball shot 46.9 percent from the field (15 for 32, including 12 for 25 on 3-pointers) and 77.8 percent at the line (7 for 9).

Looking to fill in for last year's senior group of Kevin Vaadeland (12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game), Dylan Walsh (8.0 points per game, 70 assists, 40 steals), Trevor Matheny (2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds per game) and Jacob Swenson (3.2 points per game) will be senior forward Max Brown (13 points, 14 rebounds in 17 games last season), senior forward Gairett Johnson (11 games), junior forward Christian Ridlon (17 points, 11 rebounds in eight games), junior guard Ben Randall, junior guard Josh Hays, sophomore guard Tyler Ridlon and freshman forward Cory Gartner.

Last season the Panthers averaged 46 points a game while allowing 62.5 a night. The Panthers also averaged 19.4 turnovers a game. Improving those numbers will be the key to success this season.

"We have to limit our turnovers and work as a unit and play good team defense," said Brandt. "We should have success on the offensive side and we're going to get better defensively."

A year ago, the Panthers finished 0-10 in the Mid-State Conference and were the No. 7 seed for the section playoffs. Brandt is expecting the Panthers to move up in the conference and section standings this season.

"With the players we have coming back, I have high expectations for this team," said Brandt, who will be assisted by Josh Cook and J.T. Luther. "I'm looking forward to the season. I think we're going to take a lot of teams by surprise. If we keep working hard and come out ready to play, we're going to be all right."