Rebuilding year for Knoxville boys

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With only three returning letterwinners, the Knoxville High School varsity boys’ basketball team will depend upon new talent to get them through the South Central Conference this season.

The big three coming back for Head Coach Jeff Larson’s squad this year are Kieren Nichols, Ben Olson and Alex Eckert. Returning juniors Larson expects to step up include Mike Hudson, Cael Peterson, Keegan Cox and Jaxon Zuck.

Newcomers to the varsity squad this year include Spencer Hixson, a 6’5” junior who transferred from Des Moines Christian to Knoxville. Freshman Luke Keitges will start as well.

Larson tells the Tribune that Hixson does not play inside much, but he can. He is a good offensive player, but the Panthers will need him and Nichols to both do more on defense.
The team has been active in the so-called offseason, taking games at Simpson, Norwalk, Clear Creek-Amana and Albia over the summer. Larson says they have about 24 games in already.

Though practice had only begun shortly before the interview, Larson has been pleased with the efforts of his team. He singled out Cox, who is playing hard. The way Hudson has been playing on defense has been impressive as well. Hudson may make the starting lineup when the Panthers officially take the court for the first time on Tuesday, Dec. 3.

The Panthers finished second in the SCC last year. Larson looks for his team to be in the championship mix with Albia and Centerville. Though Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont lost a lot of talent, the defending champs may have reloaded. The Rockets have a winning tradition now, so those who were in the background last year may be difficult to defeat.

Larson respects the entire conference and says there will be no easy night on the court for Knoxville. Even the Panthers’ non-conference games are against strong opponents such as PCM, Pella, Pella Christian and Grinnell. The Panthers will play the entire Little Hawkeye Conference with the exceptions of Norwalk and Oskaloosa.

“We’re facing good competition,” Larson said. “We want to take home wins in more than one non-conference game. If we want to compete for a spot at state, we need to show we can compete with the best.”

Players will be competing for the six through eight slots in the lineup. What Larson wants, ultimately, is to have his players in slots 7-12 to be just as good as the starting five.

“I’m excited about the season,” Larson said. “I’m excited for the kids, the talent they have shown. The kids are ready to get out and play.”

Regardless of who is ahead at the end of each game, Larson said each time the Panthers take the court, the team will give its all.