The first thing that sticks out about the 2016-2017 Ladue Rams basketball team is senior leadership, and it’s something that Ladue coach Chad Anderson has never had in his favor.
“We have seven seniors and this is the most I’ve ever had, but I think it’s kids that have been committed to the program and have been along for the ride and the journey," Anderson said. "Hopefully, it bodes well for us.”
This is year No. nine of the Chad Anderson era at Ladue, and it’s filled with success. After going 7-17 in his first season at the helm, Anderson has won 125 games, and his overall record is 132-69. The best years of tenure had come in 2012 through 2014 when the Rams won over 20 games and made it to the district finals, including the memorable victory over Chaminade in 2014, which is the only district championship Ladue has won during Anderson’s time as head coach.
“I think every high school coach has to have their certain beliefs, but you also have to look at your personnel and play to your strengths. I’d like to think that we’re a defensive system, but from an offensive standpoint since we’ve had Cornell [Johnston] and Connor [Spirtas] that we’ve started to play faster in transition and try to get some easy buckets.”
Last season, Ladue started out 6-1 heading into the holidays but finished out the season with an 8-11 record at 14-12.
It was supposed to be six seniors, but Zach Bush transferred to Ladue from nearby University City High School, makes up seven. Bush (6'2") is currently a key figure on the Ladue Rams football team as they are prepping for Kearney in the MSHSAA Class 4 semifinals, but when the football season ends, he will be an immediate impact on the court at point guard.
“Zach coming over helps us from a standpoint that that’s a position that we really needed. He’s extremely athletic, he’s quick, he passes well; he can score, but he’s certainly a pass-first point guard.”
Bush recorded over 300 points and 200 assists at U City during the 2015-2016 season and will look to put up similar numbers wearing the Ladue jersey.
With the loss of Mark Rogers, who scored over 1,000 points in his career and was one of the top scorers in the area last season, the Rams return just about everyone who saw playing time, not including Bush on their roster.
Key returnees are seniors River Rhodes (6’6”), Tate Hotz (6’2”), and junior Trent Stiebler (6’3”). Seniors Jack Lucier (6’2”), Jack Kittner (6’6”), Anthony Haron (6’2”), Toiyon Drummer, (6’4”) all played key minutes last year and will continue to do so if not more.
“The experience is obviously there and should play to our strength, and I think it’s a good group of kids. They’re working hard.”
When it wasn’t Rogers pouring in 25 points per game, Hotz or Rhodes were always behind in the points department. When he’s feeling it, Hotz is arguably one of the best three-point shooters in the area and isn’t too shabby inside the arc. He averaged 12 points per game and drained 57 three-pointers last season.
Stiebler may be the only starting junior. He won’t be the main focal point on offense, but he’ll most likely be guarding the opposition's best scorer. Stiebler can also put the ball in the hoop too as he averaged nearly six points per game shot nearly 50% from the field.
River Rhodes, who has one of the best names around averaged 9 points per game and has decent range for a six-foot-six-inch forward. More of a mid-range forward, he should still be able to perform that role and fill up the scoresheet more often. It wouldn’t be wise to leave him open beyond the arc as he buried 19-of-47 shots last year.
Including Rhodes, Ladue has plenty of size and Anderson plans on utilizing it as much as possible.
“We have five or six kids that are over six-foot-four-inches. We have some size which is nice.” We do have a lot of depth at most positions, specifically fours and fives, but we have a four or five guard rotation.”
Kittner and six-foot-eight-inch sophomore Moses Okpala will be two key forwards the Rams will primarily rely on in the paint along with Rhodes. Then there could be some sophomores and freshman stepping into the mix.
“We have a couple of kids on JV right now that could get some varsity time. We have three freshmen that are playing JV and a kid that just transferred in from Arizona last week that is certainly skilled enough to play at the varsity level.”
The Rams will certainly be looking to improve on their disappointing 2015-2016 season after starting off well, and with an experienced, athletic, tall, and well-rounded group this could be another banner year for Ladue basketball.
“This team can surprise some people. I think that if our kids can truly buy into what we’ve been telling them in terms of not worrying about playing time and not worrying about how you can contribute, but just worrying about your job. I think we’ll be pretty good as long as everyone buys into that.”
There is a recognizable change in Ladue’s usual schedule. They have dropped out of the D.C. Wilcutt (CBC) Tournament and will be in the Kirkwood Tournament instead. Ladue will play smaller non-conference schools, but Anderson is optimistic about the changes.
Ladue opens up play next Monday (7:00 p.m.) at home against Ritenour and then hit the road for a week at the Vianney Invitational Tournament.