Now that journeyman ballers like Charles Fraction and Krista Dye have moved on, Elsberry basketball fans are seeing some previously quiet and unassuming players take on larger and more visible roles.
Two of these players are seniors Dylan Howard and Brittany King.
“With Charles graduating I had to step up into more of a scoring role,” said Howard. “I still have to rebound and play good defense, but the emphasis is more on scoring now.”
Howard said that during the summer he worked on his dribbling and his shooting to help himself prepare for the new responsibilities he knew were on the horizon.
“I also got the opportunity during the summer to play with other up and coming varsity players and get to know them a lot better,” said Howard.
Even though it’s early in the season, Howard said he thinks the hard work he put in during the summer is already being rewarded.
“I’m allowed to handle the ball more and be more of a leader,” said Howard.
Last season when Howard was primarily a sub his main role offensively was to break to the basket as quickly and unobtrusively as possible, wait for the feed down underneath from Fraction or Raheim Porter and then put up the easy shot off the glass.
This year Howard is attempting long three’s from behind the top of the key and stepping just inside and shooting from near the high post.
“Offensively that’s my new game,” said Howard.
Defensively, Howard said his role on the team hasn’t really changed.
“My main job on defense is to help keep guys off of Kenny [Lesley] so he doesn’t get into foul trouble,” said Howard.
Elsberry Indians Head Coach Ryan Parker is expecting some great things out of Howard during his final year on the court.
“Dylan is a critical part of what we are trying to do and we talk daily about his role on this team and what is expected of him,” said Parker. “He’s athletic and has a great mid-range jumper. As a senior even more is expected of you on and off the court. We expect Dylan to step into a leadership role and show our younger kids what is expected of them.”
Senior Brittany King has also seen the face of her game change considerably since last season.
“This year I feel like a bigger part of the team,” said King. “I know the plays, my shot has gotten better and Coach Bencomo and I definitely bonded more over the summer.”
Bencomo said this bond is something that develops with all good players at different stages and that once they realize he wants whatever is best for them a different level of trust is created that alters the player-coach relationship for the better.
“We had some heart-to-heart talks over the summer,” said Bencomo. “Brittany has now come to the understanding that it’s about her and the other girls on the team and not about me.”
King has a deadly accurate left-handed shot from the outside, but so far this year she has been relied on to score from under the basket when opposing teams shut down Brittni Hagemeier or Kate Boedecker.
“We knew they were going to double on Brittni and Kate this season and we had to find something else offensively,” said King.
Although King is very confident from near the perimeter she doesn’t mind being asked to take the shorter shots off the glass.
“I like the outside shot but when it comes right down to it I’ll shoot from wherever I’m open,” said King.
Bencomo added that during last season King was gracious enough to help out the junior varsity team when they were short on players and he feels her time on that team helped turn her into an unselfish and flexible player who will do anything she is asked to do to the best of her ability.
“She has bought into the philosophy that you do whatever it takes to win,” said Bencomo.
As a ball handler, King has a slight advantage in that she is somewhat ambidextrous.
“When I played softball my right hand was dominant,” said King. “However, in basketball my left hand is becoming more dominant than it was my freshman year.”
King said she isn’t forcing the left-handed shot and it’s something that’s just happening naturally for her.
To further keep opposing teams on their toes, King still dribbles with her right hand.
“I’m still more comfortable dribbling on the right side, but I can take care of the ball with my left just as well,” said King.
The combination of a left-handed shot, a left-handed pass and a right-handed dribble is making King an offensive threat this year and although she has been used primarily as a sub she believes she will see more playing time as the season progresses.
“I think if I keep working hard and giving the team what they want from me I’ll get my starting spot,” said King.
Bencomo couldn’t agree more with King’s work ethic.
“Those five starting positions aren’t guaranteed to anybody,” said Bencomo. “If I have somebody playing hard and doing what needs to be done then they will get to start. Not only that, but if that particular player is doing what it takes to win the game they won’t only start, they will play the whole game if possible.”