By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
Bob Sheffield has encouraged what few veterans the Quincy Notre Dame boys basketball team has to take ownership in molding a young roster.
It means being critical and supportive at the same time.
"I've done a fair amount of yelling so far," said senior forward Tony Stella, the only returnee who played significant minutes last season. "You also have to pat these freshmen on the butt. They're new. They're young. They're inexperienced.
"So you have to make sure you reinforce what they're doing right."
For every misstep they've made, the inexperienced Raiders have provided some awe-inspiring moments in practices and scrimmages.
That has everyone encouraged, especially Sheffield.
"Day in and day out, somebody does something where you're like, ‘That's pretty good and he can help us,'" said Sheffield, who is in his first season as head coach following 16 seasons as an assistant coach under Scott Douglas. "It all comes down to the identity we're going to develop."
It's clear what identity the Raiders want. They intend to outwork and outhustle opponents.
"Everybody likes a team that plays hard," sophomore guard Drew Eaton said. "That's what we'll do. We'll come in and battle every day."
It starts with a battle for playing time.
"Nobody is guaranteed a spot. It's open competition," Sheffield said. "I don't care if you're a freshman or a senior. There are opportunities here."
Many of the younger Raiders are ready to seize the opportunity.
Freshman guard Johnny Ray could be a complimentary scorer to go along with Eaton and Stella, while a trio of sophomores -- 6-foot-4 forward Ben Welper and 6-3 forwards Brian Copley and Austin Tappe -- give the Raiders their only size. All will see minutes, as will freshman guard Carter Cramsey.
"They all realize they have a good opportunity to play and they can't act like a freshman," Eaton said. "They're mature enough to know they have to come in and work hard every day."
Eaton learned that lesson a year ago.
Coming off the bench for a senior-laden team, Eaton became one of the Raiders' top marksmen, hitting six 3-pointers in a victory over North Lawndale that was one shy of tying the program's single-game record. He figured out what it took to compete by watching and going against the likes of Alex Fitch and Chris and Nick Dietrich.
"Those guys showed me how it is to play high school basketball," Eaton said. "This year, it's going to help me in games being able to battle through things."
Eaton is going to have to score, too.
Gone is Fitch, who averaged 16.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, and the inside presence of 6-9 center Matt McPherson, who averaged nine points and six rebounds per game. It's going to change the way the Raiders play.
Eaton is a perimeter threat who can score off the dribble. Stella is a solid jump shooter who has a nose for the ball. The Walz brothers -- Riley and Kade -- add versatility, and senior Barry Welper provides athleticism in his return to basketball. Welper skipped his junior season to concentrate on football.
The key offensively may be the development of junior Austin Ridder, who seems ready to take the reins at point guard.
"Who are we going to go to? Who's going to carry us? It's all going to depend on how we're playing," Sheffield said. "It depends on who is hot that day."
Matchups will dictate it, too. Outside of Welper, the Raiders lack size, which makes gang rebounding a must.
"Our lack of size is going to kill us if we don't check out and attack the boards," Stella said. "If we can limit teams to one shot, we'll be all right."
Showing a little toughness will help, too.
"We're going to have to battle inside to make sure no team just beats us up with good post play," Eaton said. "I know we can do that. I know everybody will put in the effort to do that."