Last year Kaden Dandrow was the youngest player in the Edwards-Knox boys basketball starting lineup. This year hes the old man on the team.
The Cougars, who won the Northern Athletic Conference West Division title with a 13-1 record, graduated nine seniors, including four starters.
Fortunately, for the squad, the one returning starter is Dandrow, a 6-foot-4 senior who averaged 20 points and nine rebounds last year.
I have to be more of a leader than last year, Dandrow said. Its got bonuses at times and sometimes it doesnt. Were young now. A lot of guys have to step up and play big for us.
According to Cougars coach Bill Davison, Dandrow is the ideal player to have guide a young team on the court.
When I get practice going he tells the younger kids what we do, Davison said. He helps me get them going, and if they dont understand hell show them. Hes supportive. He listens. Hes a coachable kid. Thats the big thing. You need a guy on the court in order to help, especially when you are trying to adjust things on the court offensively or defensively.
Dandrow was a standout for the team last year, but his coach said its important that he try not to do too much, but instead find a way to mix his game in this year with the new starters.
Hes got to rely on some of the younger guys, Davison said. He has to trust the younger teammates.
Said Dandrow, I have to have a lot of patience with the younger guys. Ive always played with older guys who were already at an experience level above mine. I like this role. The younger guys look up to me, and they want me to do well, and they are a fun group to play with. Its fun to have people trust you like that.
Dandrow is a versatile player for the Cougars. He can play inside and do well, but he also has the ability to make outside shots, even 3-point baskets.
The reason for that is simple, according to Dandrow, who said he was only 5-foot-10 until the ninth grade, when he grew to 6-3.
I never expected to be as tall as I am, Dandrow said. Before (growing), I played shooting guard, and thats carried over. Now that Im 6-4, I can shoot like I used to, because I was small. Once I got big I had to learn the post moves and defending in the post.
The Cougars may have lost 80 percent of their starting lineup, but neither Dandrow nor Davison is expecting the team to struggle this season.
I believe well go over .500 for sure, Davison said. Well surprise a few teams, no doubt. We should hold our own. We won the West last year and well be right there nip and tuck with (top teams). We lost nine players, but one of our better defensive players (Abe White) is back, and we have a 6-5 junior in Dan Pharoah.
Said Dandrow, Mostly these (new) guys just have to learn to not get excited when they get pressured a lot and throw the ball away. Were trying to let them relax and play instead of overthinking everything too much. I think a lot of people are underestimating us because they see we lost nine seniors. I think our guards are fast and quick and will run the court well.
In addition to getting ready for his final season of high school basketball, Dandrow is also already planning his future.
He said hes been interested in computers for a long time and hopes to play college basketball next season and major in computer science.
Im considering SUNY New Paltz and Norwich, Dandrow said. The degree that I want in computer science, both have that. I went and visited New Paltz and that was fun. I havent gotten to visit Norwich yet.
Said Davison, Hes more focused on academics. Hell help a lot of teams.
Last year was a strong one for Section 10 basketball as five teams finished with just one loss in league play.
Malone and Ogdensburg Free Academy both went 11-1 in the Central Division a year ago and should be strong again this season, along with Potsdam and Massena.
Edwards-Knox was the top team in the West, with a 13-1 record, but graduated four starters. Harrisville, which went 11-3, will be strong as well as Lisbon and Heuvelton and Morristown. The top teams in the East figure to be last years co-champions St. Regis Falls and Chateaugay, which each went 12-1.
Some of the areas top individual returnees include Edwards-Knoxs Dandrow, Tupper Lakes Mitch Keniston, OFAs Matt Piercey and Kinnon LaRose, Massenas Zach Rusaw, St.Regis Falls Brandon Votra and Lisbons Jimmy Robinson.