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Panthers counting on easy transition baskets to spark winning season

Leading the Park Rapids boys basketball team this season will be seniors (from left) Sam Ness, CJ Hess, Bryce Brovitch, Zach Jewison, Rilee Johnson and Tyler McCollum.

     Matt Brandt is more focused on how the Park Rapids boys basketball team plays at the end of the season than at the beginning.

     Three starters are recovering from injuries suffered during the football season. Senior Tyler McCollum will miss the first month of the season recovering from a broken collarbone while senior Rilee Johnson (knee) and junior Jordan McCollum (broken collarbone) are expected to open the season in the starting lineup.

     Tyler McCollum (6-foot-3 guard) was named the Panthers’ Most Valuable Player after leading the team in scoring at 15.6 points per game and in 3-pointers by going 67 for 209. McCollum, who was named to the Mid-State Conference team, made 154 of 403 field goals (38.2 percent) and 47 of 60 free throws (78.3 percent) in scoring 422 points. McCollum also had 126 rebounds, 68 assists and 45 steals in 27 games as a starter.

     Johnson (a 6-3 forward) also earned all-conference honors and was second on the team in scoring at 11.1 points a night. In 27 starts, Johnson shot 46.4 percent from the field (128 for 276) and 50 percent at the free-throw line (45 for 90) in scoring 301 points. Johnson also had 125 rebounds, 56 steals and 47 assists.

     Jordan McCollum (a 5-10 guard) also played in all 27 games a year ago and shot 41.6 percent from the field (69 for 166, including 26 for 76 on 3-pointers) and 61.4 percent on free throws (27 for 44) in scoring 191 points to finish fifth on the team with an average of 7.1 points a game. McCollum led the team with 92 assists and also had 71 rebounds and 39 steals.

     Looking to fill the spots vacated from last year’s senior group of all-conference honorable mention players Kyle Goplerud (253 points, 149 rebounds in 27 games) and Chris Goplerud (208 points, 163 rebounds in 27 games) as well as Cory Gartner (62 points, 29 rebounds in 27 games), Andy Waller (56 points, 39 rebounds in 12 games) and Mason Long (9 points, 23 rebounds, 51 assists in 27 games) will be seniors Zach Jewison, Bryce Brovitch, CJ Hess and Sam Ness; juniors Derek Porozinski and Riley Massie; and sophomores Wyatt Derman, Nick Lopez, Remington Hagan and Damion Hanke.

     Jewison (a 6-2 center) played in 27 games and scored 93 points by making 34 of 96 field goals (35.4 percent) and 24 of 35 free throws (68.6 percent). Jewison also had 101 rebounds. Brovitch (a 6-7 center) saw limited action in 17 games, Hess (a 6-2 forward) played in five games, Porozinski (a 6-0 forward) played in 21 games, Massie (a 5-7 guard) played in 21 games and Derman (a 5-8 forward) played in 11 games. Hagan will provide depth at guard while Ness, Lopez and Hanke will provide depth at forward.

     Starting the season on the junior varsity will be junior Connor Farrell and sophomores Austin Lewis, Isaac Kosel, Joshua Weckwerth, Kodi Robbins and Tristan Breitweser. Hagan and Hanke will also play some junior varsity.

     The freshman team features Adam Herberg, Hunter Jewison, Jackson Leckner, Jacob Dickinson, Kenny David, Kyle Trumble, Nick Porozinski and Tanner Becker.

     “We have some key players to replace, but I expect kids to step up and fill those spots,” said Brandt, who led the Panthers to a 2-8 record in the Mid-State Conference and a 9-18 overall record. “We had a good summer. We faced some great competition and we showed that we can play with anyone. These kids know what it takes to be a good basketball team and they believe we can beat anyone if we execute.”

     The Panthers will be looking to challenge Detroit Lakes and Crosby-Ironton for the Mid-State title and contend for top honors in the Northeast bracket of Section 8AA, which has a new look with the addition of East Grand Forks and Badger-Greenbush-Middle River to go along with Bagley, Crookston, Crosby-Ironton, Pequot Lakes, Roseau and Warroad. Perham defeated C-I for the section title last season.

     “We’d like to finish in the top three in the conference and in the section as well,” said Brandt. “Hopefully the majority of the games will go our way. These kids like to run, so we’re going to spread the floor and push it up the floor. I look for us to be competitive in every game. These kids have the experience and the determination to win. We have high expectations. It should be a fun year.”