Working a slew of inexperienced players into the varsity rotation, the Salem High School boys’ basketball team certainly hasn’t needed the constant interruptions in summer and preseason workouts caused by COVID-19.
But it’s an issue the Tigers simply have had to deal with.
The opening portion of Salem’s schedule has been compromised due to team quarantine.
Canceled for the Tigers due to the team being quarantined were the scheduled opener against Newburg Nov. 21 in Salem as well as the Sullivan Tournament, which is slated to begin Nov. 30.
The Newburg game has been rescheduled for Jan. 5 at Salem, and the search continues to add two more games to replace those lost in the Sullivan Tourney.
Now Salem is scheduled to open the season Dec. 8 at West Plains. The Tigers’ first home game will not be until Dec. 15 against Rolla.
Salem is coming off a 13-14 season in 2019-20. The Tigers advanced to the Class 4 District 9 Tournament championship game, where it was clipped by Rolla.
From that squad Salem returns three starters in 6-2 junior forward Garrett Connell, 6-3 senior guard/forward Braiden Carmack and 6-9, 285-pound senior post Lucas Morrison.
Morrison averaged 12 points and eight rebounds despite a shoulder injury last season while Carmack averaged 12 points and four rebounds and Connell six points and six boards.
Losses to graduation are point guard Reese Dodson (19.8 points, 5.1 assists) and forward Carter Chilton (12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds).
Chosen to fill the big void left by Dodson at point guard is 5-9 sophomore Gunnar Konkel. Others in the Tiger varsity rotation include 6-0 senior guard Ethan Simpson, 6-3 senior forward Josh Arzt, 5-8 sophomore guard Easton May, 5-8 freshman guard Bryson May and 5-10 junior guard Levi Smith.
“There are times we have looked really good and other times I’ve wanted to pull my hair out,” said Bryan Carty, entering his second season as Tiger head coach. “There has been no consistency due to COVID. We had some kids who did some really good offseason stuff. We just haven’t looked good together yet. It will just take some time. We’ve got some big holes to fill and really needed this summer. With the youth and inexperience we’ve got, not having that continuity of the regular season will be tough.”
The first option to the Tiger offense will be getting the ball inside, where Salem will likely have a size advantage in just about every game it plays. And the key to that will be the varsity adjustment of Konkel.
“Obviously, Morrison will be a centerpiece,” Carty said. “As long as we keep him going we’ll be okay. The first thing we’ve got to solve is getting the ball up the floor, and Konkel has had a good offseason and is getting the first shot at it.
“We are athletic. Carmack may be the best athlete in the whole school. He’s quick off the bounce and has worked on his ability to shoot. He’ll be tough to guard, and that should open things up. And Connell’s ability to rebound, especially on the offensive glass, should really help us.”
It will be a tough task every game in SCA play, according to Carty.
“The conference will be tough top to bottom,” he said. “Thayer, hands-down, is the team to beat. Ava has got the best player in the conference. Liberty has a new coach. Mountain Grove got a good move-in from Ava. Willow Springs is so well-coached they don’t do anything to hurt themselves. Houston has got a move-in that will help them. It’ll be competitive.”
The schedule (subject to change due to COVID or weather):
Dec. 8 – at West Plains, 5 p.m.
Dec. 11 – at St. James, 5 p.m.
Dec. 15 – Rolla, 6 p.m.
Dec. 18 – Camdenton, 5 p.m.
Dec. 26-31 – Cabool Tourney
Jan. 5 – Newburg, 6 p.m.
Jan. 8 – Eldon, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 15 – Cabool, 6 p.m.
Jan. 18-23 – St. James Tourney
Jan. 18-23 – Mtn. View JV Tourney
Jan. 26 – at Steelville, 6 p.m.
Jan. 29 – at Licking, 6 p.m.
Feb. 1-6 – Licking JV Tourney
Feb. 2 – at Willow springs, 5 p.m.
Feb. 5 – at Thayer, 6 p.m.
Feb. 8-13 – Bourbon JV Tourney
Feb. 9 – Mtn. View Liberty, 6 p.m.
Feb. 12 – Mtn. Grove, 6 p.m.
Feb. 16 – at Ava, 6 p.m.
Feb. 19 – Houston, 6 p.m.
Feb. 23 – at St. Clair, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 27-March 5 – District Tourney, tba