On the surface, the Bethlehem boys basketball team looks like it is in for a long season.
Only one starter is back from last year’s team, which finished third in the four-team Suburban Council Gold Division. And the Eagles are playing in a realigned Suburban Council South Division with Colonie, Mohonasen, Columbia, Averill Park and defending league champion Guilderland.
But, head coach A.G. Irons is convinced his team can compete.
We were so experience-heavy with that senior group last year, said Irons. `But I’m comfortable with the younger guys we have this year because I had them on the junior varsity team (two years ago), so I know what they’re capable of.`
What Irons hopes the Eagles are capable of is playing at the same frenetic pace as last year’s team did.
`I think the style of play we utilized last year we’ll try to continue this year,` said Irons.
Bethlehem has plenty of players to put on the court, even if only a handful of them saw significant playing time on varsity last year. Irons is carrying 16 players on his roster ` though one of them, senior forward Matt Branigan, is out for the year with a torn ACL.
`I would say there are 10 players who will see significant playing time this year,` said Irons.
Size is the other thing Bethlehem has in abundance. No player is listed at under six feet tall, and there are two players ` junior Corey Dente and sophomore Ryan Stempsey ` who are 6 feet, 5 inches tall.
`We’ve got some size with the younger guys,` said Irons.
Still, experience is something Bethlehem will be lacking in the early part of the season. Senior guard Kevin Wendth is the lone returning starter, and senior guard Ryan Prinzo is the only other player with significant varsity playing time. The other veterans ` guard/forward John Kellogg, guard Will Baynes, guard/forward Bobby Shields, guard Riley McGraw and forward Tom Bell ` saw only limited playing time last year.
Bethlehem’s schedule won’t give those players a break as they get their legs under them. The Eagles open the season at Colonie ` one of the preseason favorites in the South Division ` Tuesday, Dec. 2, and then travel to the Niskayuna Invitational Tournament. Bethlehem’s first home game isn’t until Friday, Dec. 12, when Niskayuna visits Delmar.
Of Bethlehem’s first 11 games, seven are against Suburban Council South Division opponents, which suits Irons fine.
`I like (the new divisions),` he said. `We now have two more league games which count toward our Sectional points, instead of a league tournament where the games don’t count toward our point totals. So, every game means something.`
And though the South Division will be tough, Irons said he believes Bethlehem will be competitive in it.
`I look around at what we have, and I know we’ve lost a lot (to graduation), but so did a lot of other teams,` he said.“