Sports

Morris Shootout: Year of experience helps Plainfield Central's Bayer get in sync with players

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Plainfield Central's Maurice McCullum (left) puts up a shot last season against Joliet Central.[]

MORRIS – Second-year Plainfield Central boys basketball coach Gregg Bayer is living the good life.

Not that coaching a high school basketball team ever is easy, but hey, this is Year 2.

“Year 2 is so much easier than Year 1,” Bayer said during last week’s Morris Shootout. “I’m familiar with the players and they’re familiar with me.

“It was nice during our camp days that I was able to add post and perimeter skill work. The familiarity is a big bonus that we have been able to build on. I can call out something, and the players know what I mean.”

The Wildcats finished 10-18 last season as Bayer, an outstanding basketball player during his Plainfield Central career, moved over from coaching the Wildcats’ girls team.

Next season, Central will have three starters back from a team that had three sophomores in the top seven. Ten of last season’s 15 roster members return. Senior Maurice McCullum and juniors Brandon Shoemaker and Tavari Johnson are the returning starters.

“We have some juniors coming up who can step in and fill some voids,” Bayer said. “But at every level you move up to, the game is quicker, more physical and more complex. We have 10 guys back who saw how you have to prepare day in and day out for this level of competition.”

The Wildcats’ goal for next season is to finish in the top half of the Southwest Prairie Conference and see where the chips fall from there. A change in the conference schedule – each team will play each other team only once for nine games total – changes the way the SPC race will be viewed. Last year, each team played some league foes twice and others once.

“There’s a lot of parity in the league,” Bayer said. “I’ll miss seeing some teams twice. Every game is so important now. I always enjoyed the second games. You’d get a chance to make adjustments and see what works against whom.”

Bayer said basketball is a game of reaction, and that’s what he is imparting to his players.

“If you have to think the game more than react, you already are a step slow,” he said.

As much as basketball has became a game of guards, there still is a need for a controlling presence in the post. Central had that last season in Matthews Morganfield, who was not tall for his position, but was physical and then some.

“I’m missing Matthews,” Bayer said. “We got the guys together this summer and I looked around and said, ‘Where’s Matthews?’ We had some other seniors who played key roles, too.

“You lose players, and that’s why you need to have program players ready to fill the voids. We are attempting to build toward that.”