By Alex Strouf, The Denmark News
Denmark’s boy’s basketball team looks for its first conference title in 11 years
DENMARK–The Denmark High School varsity boy’s basketball team has not won a conference title in 11 years. Since 2007, Denmark teams have come close, but there will be none with as good of a shot as this year’s team.
The Northeastern Conference featured parity across the board last season, which meant just about every game was an entertaining one to watch. Six of the ten teams in the conference finished with ten or more wins on the year, including Denmark, who finished the season 11-7 in conference play. On top of that, each team in the conference lost at least one time.
On last year’s All Conference teams, 10 of the 13 first- and second-team selections were seniors. Of them, the second all-time leading scorer in Denmark history, Blake Derricks.
Denmark head coach Cody Stelmach is preaching the ‘next man up’ mentality when it comes to replacing the scoring and leadership Derricks leaves behind.
“He was even-keeled in high-pressure situations. Guys knew who to give the ball and had confidence who would make something happen,” Stelmach said. “Now we have to know who’s going to take the bull by the horns.”
This year, the conference competition may not be as thick, but it’s expected that Denmark could go toe-to-toe with anybody.
The past two seasons have featured the implementation of an incredible class that will provide a majority of the starting lineup this year.
The class of 2019, now juniors, has seen three full-time varsity players since their freshman season. Last year, four of the seven players that saw a majority of the floor time were sophomores.
There’s a lot to be excited about.
Junior Brady Jens is entering his third season as the starting point guard for the Vikings.
Jens was a true leader and rising star for Denmark in 2016-17, averaging 15.5 points per game. The quick, flashy guard didn’t just show what he could do, he showed he learned how to do what he could not the year prior: jump shots.
Jens shot a wicked 43% on 72 attempts from beyond the arc as a sophomore. As a freshman, you could count on one hand how many attempts he took from outside all season.
As Stelmach begins his fourth season at the helm, he expects Jens to lead the charge.
“For Brady, the biggest thing is being even-keeled and being the same guy every single day,” said Stelmach.
“I want him to be the second coach out there to pull guys together and get guys going.”
As it’s always been with Jens, he wants to grow and be the leader Derricks was the past three years.
“I’m comfortable with taking on new roles,” said Jens. “It’s all about growing and becoming a better leader.”
Growing and becoming leaders. It seems to be the common theme among the core group of juniors for Denmark. For the big men duo of Zane Short and Patrick Suemnick, growing can only help the Vikings.
Short, who is entering his third season as a starter for Denmark, led the team in rebounds and assists last year, as well as averaging 10.6 points per game. After a summer of club basketball and constant practice, Stelmach has some high expectations for the 6’4’’ forward.
He was our X-factor last year, in terms of if he played well, the team played well, if he didn’t play well, our team usually didn’t do well,” said Stelmach. “I expect him to be our X-factor again this year.”
Although listed as a forward with his size, Short is positively positionless, meaning Denmark could plug him in anywhere on the floor and he could shine.
As for Patrick Suemnick, the 6’6’’ forward came on strong last season. As a sophomore, Suemnick would play with junior varsity for one half before suiting up for varsity games. It wasn’t until the second half of the season where Suemnick began playing extensive minutes at the varsity level. It was a conference game in Luxemburg-Casco where Suemnick showed he could be the future of Denmark.
A second half block on the defensive end turned into a Jens end-to-end heavily contested midrange jumper. As Suemnick transitioned from one end to the other, he timed up the missed shot, grabbed it with two hands, and threw it through the rim.
“It was so cool for my confidence,” said Suemnick of the play.
Suemnick finished that game with a career-high 18 points and six rebounds. He then followed that up the next game, tying his career-high in points.
Suemnick, although only starting for half of the season, comes into this season as prepared as anybody.
“Every day over the summer I was putting four-to-six hours of basketball every single day,” said Suemnick. “Whether it was at the YMCA, in the morning at school, doing dribbling drills my uncle taught me, or whatever. I was working almost every single day.”
The big three will lead the charge for the young Vikings, but that doesn’t make up a full team. The typical minutes under Stelmach consist of 7 or 8 players. The role players will mostly be guys who saw time last year, the likes of juniors Jack Satori and Zachary Gezella and seniors Josh Pelischek, Sam Sipiorski, Ryan Honnef, and Nick Rabas, who will likely all be competing to see the court.
“I think that’ll help us in practice a lot,” Stelmach said of his team’s depth. “So many guys are going to be fighting for playing time.”
“With our role guys, the biggest thing I’ll need to see is great, fundamentally sound defense. If you are solid defensively, you’re going to be seeing the floor.”
Defense has been the number-one thing Stelmach and his staff has been preaching leading up to this season. Offensively, the Vikings averaged over 67 points per contest as a team last season, which is solid at the high school level. Defensively, breakdowns and miscommunication led to losing winnable games.
“I think our defense just got exposed in the postseason,” said Stelmach. “If we’re scoring that many points, we should be winning.”
All in all, returning a core and talented group who has been showing that they want to win already puts Denmark in a good spot. Now it’s all about being together.
“All the work I’ve seen my teammates put in, I think it’s very safe to say I’m happy with the progress we’ve made and work we’ve put in,” said Brady Jens. “This year we can do something very special.”
The beginning of something ‘special’ commences on Saturday, Nov 25, when the Vikings travel to Valders.