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Niwot boys basketball preview

New coach looks to seniors for leadership

Series: Niwot boys basketball | Story 2

December 4, 2019

Jocelyn Rowley

Seniors Jarrett Noterman, Kyle Reeves, Cooper Sheldon, Milo Ostwald, Austin Rathburn and Noah Pena return to the varsity lineup for Niwot this season.

Clayton Wittrock isn't sure that the Niwot boys basketball team is ready to contend for a Northern League title, but the first-year head coach does have an undeniably sunny outlook for the upcoming 2019-20 season. With a talented core of seniors, plus some future stars, the former Grand Junction assistant said the new-look Cougars are just a few tweaks away from a run in the Class 4A playoffs.

"I think the team is going to look much different than last year. We are a motion-based offense. My hope is that you're going to see a team that shares the ball a lot more, utilizes the strengths of all of the guys on the floor, and one of our goals is to be a much tougher and much more aggressive defensive team."

Fueling much of Wittrock's optimism for this season are the returning starters, a close-knit group headed by three-year varsity veterans Milo Ostwald and Cooper Sheldon. Last season, Sheldon averaged six points per game for Niwot at point guard, and was a team leader in rebounds and assists. This year, Wittrock expects the pair to assume an instructional role in the program, and not just for the younger players.

"Their varsity experience makes them the guys that I go to right away with the expectation that they be able to educate...some of the other seniors who haven't seen as much time, about the speed of the game and the decision-making," he said.

In all, the Cougars' varsity lineup features six experienced seniors who are all eager to see their high school careers end on a positive note. Joining Ostwald and Sheldon are Jarrett Noterman, Noah Pena. Kyle Reeves, and Austin Rathburn, who impressed Wittrock with hard word and leadership during the preseason. Other varsity players include sophomore Rowan Granat, who swung up from junior varsity last season, sophomore Dev Mudukutore, and juniors Gage Gruidel and Brennan Noterman.

"We have a group of seniors that have played together for a long time, that like playing together, and are motivated," the coach said. "From an in-game standpoint, there's a group of guys that understand we're not going to lean on one or two, we're going to be five, six, seven deep, ready to share the ball."

Wittrock will be relying on those seniors as the program transitions to a new style on both sides of the ball. His goal is to build a "defense-first" team, supplemented by a "smart, yet aggressive" offense that creates and makes high-percentage shots. Last season, Niwot averaged 54 points per game and shot 46% from field goal range.

"I'm a strong believer that the more guys you see in the score book generally points towards a team that's hard to beat," he said. "I think we have the potential to be a decent shooting and a decent scoring team, if we're taking the shots within the offense and not gambling."

Unfortunately, the defensive transformation has proved a bit more challenging, and Wittrock said that could be a liability against conference rivals Longmont and Silver Creek, who outscored the Cougars by an average of 30 points in their games last season.

"We've got to embrace that identity as a defensive team...If we are defensively holding teams to single shots that's going to be a big thing for us. We need to force teams into bad shots and tough shots, and we need to limit them to one. We can live with a tough one that goes in, but we can't live with giving them two or three attempts."

His sunny outlook notwithstanding, Wittrock knows a lot will have to go right for Niwot to earn its first postseason berth since 2016-17. With emerging programs like Frederick and Erie on their non-conference schedule, the Cougars might not have many wins before league play begins in January. For Wittrock, however, wins are only one measure of progress.

"We need the ability to roll with the punches. We're going to face some adversity, and we're going to play some really good teams, and we have to fight through when things don't go right, and we can't get too up when things do go right. The more we develop that, it's going to get us through, and we're going to see some successes."

The Clayton Wittrock era of Niwot boys basketball kicks off on Wednesday, Dec. 4 on the road against Frederick. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.


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