Helder short-handed with Highlanders
EUREKA SPRINGS -- Fresh off a 28-11 record last year, fifth-year Eureka Springs basketball coach Nolan Helder may be facing the toughest of his assignments since taking over the helm of the Highlanders.
With only seven players currently eligible to play through the semester, Helder won't have the players to pull from off the bench after losing three to transfer and only one returning starter.
All five starters from last year's squad either graduated or left the school.
"We've had a lot of success since I've been here," Helder admitted. "But we lost a lot. I thought we would be very good again but lost all the returning players (for various reasons). We have overcome it so far and feel like we will still be able to compete. It could just be a depth issue at times if we get into foul trouble or get tired."
Helder said pre-season conditioning was crucial if the Highlanders are going to return to the regional tournament, an accomplishment the program has met every year since he took over.
The Highlanders are coming off back-to-back state tournament appearances for the first time in school history and won a game at state last year to set another school mark.
With a wholesale starting five on the floor, Helder pointed to junior guard Dalton Johnson (5-feet, 8-inches, 175 pounds) as being the leader of the inexperienced, but talented group. Helder said senior forward Josh Premeau (6'-3", 240) was expected to shine this year after coming on late toward regional and state tournament action at the end of last season.
"(Johnson) did start some last year," Helder said. "He is a great 3-point shooter and really our only other real returning player. And Josh won't come out of the game. He's a lefty, a big man that can also shoot the three. And he moves well for his size."
Helder said the remaining five on the floor at any given time would be by committee as the season takes shape and players find their roles.
"We have some guys with talent ready to work hard and step up to carry on the great tradition we've started the past few years at Eureka Springs," Helder said. "(Junior) Jake McClung (5'-9", 125) had limited time last year and will take over at point guard this year. He is a great kid and our best best defender. He's small but plays bigger because of his hustle. He is our quarterback on the floor."
That leaves the rest of the group, including sophomores Nathan Andress (5'-8", 130) and Payton Myers (5'-8", 120) and seniors Tanner Allee (6'-3", 180) and Andrew Ritter (5'-9", 180) fighting for playing time.
"Tanner's first year playing was last year," Helder said. "He is long and athletic and a great rebounder. He is a good defender and can shoot it. He just needs experience. We will see where he is as we go through the season. He's a good raw talent."
Ritter has been in the program since the seventh grade.
"He has waited his turn," Helder said. "He is a complete team player that does the little things that don't show up in the score book. He sets screens and takes charges. He plays a very important role."
Andress is a talented athlete that is one of the school's best cross country runners and along with Myers will be expected to fill playing time and advance their abilities as the season progresses.
Helder said he will change his approach with this year's squad -- out of necessity -- from a man-to-man defense to zone.
"I am used to running man defense and motion offense," he said. "We will run more zone this year because of lack of depth, something I have never done. It should also keep us out of foul trouble. A zone allows more open outside shots. But we don't want to give up the inside shot. That is the goal."
Helder said offensively the Highlanders would try to move the ball around and set up plays to get the ball in the hands of the shooters
"We will run more set plays on offense to try to get the ball in certain players' hands on certain spots on the floor," he said. "We scored well last year and ran the floor well. We also played good half-court defense. We have to adapt this year to what we have to work with."
Helder, originally from West Fork, graduated from law school at Arkansas and coached at Little Rock Christian and Berryville before landing in Eureka Springs.