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As Reigning State Champs, Covington Catholic Heads Back to the Court

Last season, Covington Catholic became state basketball champions because of their execution in the clutch and their intense will to win. They proved to be a special group whose dynamic formed in just the right way in order to win the KHSAA Sweet 16.

Every new season, though, presents a different dynamic. No two teams are truly ever the same. Even dynasty teams have a new chemistry about them from year to year.

“There are new personalities that take over,” said Colonels coach Scott Ruthsatz at practice on Tuesday. “You look at the personalities and you try to fit the guys into the right spots and you hope that you're doing a good job with chemistry.”

Coach Scott Ruthsatz is not stuck in the past. There are changes afoot within the gymnasium of the reigning state champs.

“We're going to be a little bit bigger,” Ruthsatz said. “We'll be able to move Bo Schuh to the three instead of the four or five like he's typically playing. Bo can shoot and moving him out to three allows him to take some of those mismatches out but it also keeps him out of foul trouble inside and that's one thing we've kind of struggled with over time.  Now he can come from the weak side and use his athletic ability to get blocks and other things like that.”

Moving Bo Schuh to small forward gives Ruthsatz a lot of flexibility in terms of how to employ the 6'6'' Schuh, but it will also challenge the senior to display a wide spectrum of versatility to his game. He can shoot for his size and also has the ability to get to the rim off the dribble from the wing, but is he quick enough to guard some of the smaller players he is sure to match up with at the three position?

“I think we've worked on that, but I think his length will always negate some of that,” said Ruthsatz. “He doesn't have to pressure the ball as much because he can use his length.”

Last season, Schuh combined with Mark Schult to form a quick, good-shooting big man tandem that played smart defense and rebounded well. Schult graduated, Schuh has moved over to the three, so now the inside presence falls upon forward Grant Romes and centers Will Heppler and Hunter Zeiglemeyer to make up the difference. Romes is kind of a garbage man-type of forward, meaning he gives a lot of effort and cleans up the mess with things like offensive rebounds and taking charges.

“Romes is doing a lot of the hustle stuff that we've always had guys like Nate Wickman do in the past.”

The other task this year for the Colonels is replacing the huge void left by point guard Nick Ruthsatz. To be fair, there really is no replacing a player like the school's all-time leading scorer and state tournament MVP. And it isn't as easy as simply moving the next star guard, Cole VonHandorf, over to the point and going about business as usual. It may take a while for VonHandorf to become a point guard, and that is just fine with Coach Ruthsatz.

“We will start to convert Cole into a true point guard over time, but usually that characteristic or that makeup usually takes some time to do. He's really never played the point, per se, so getting the ball in the open court versus having to create for other people is a different demographic as far as mentally thinking in the game,” he said. “So we'll eventually do that. We have some guards that are easier converted to the point right now and let Cole kind of do what he does best in the open floor and score, but slowly convert him over as time goes through the summer and as we graduate some of these seniors this year.”

He also is excited about the development of players who will see a greater role than they did last year. Point guard Cooper Theobald and shooting guard Mattew Schumate form an intriguing supporting cast around VonHandorf and their coach sounded optimistic about their ability to shine with more minutes.

“I think the development of Schumate and Cooper Theobald, people are really going to be surprised at where they are as far as their development, They will be surprised at how much somebody like Nick really improved Cooper who had to guard Nick everyday at practice. He didn't necessarily have a great junior year, but Cooper has improved so much that now he is running the point. Matthew is doing a lot of the shooting and perimeter work.”

The challenge will be arguably even greater for the Colonels this season than what they faced last year. Cov Cath has multiple games in both Louisville and Cincinnati this season to test themselves to fullest before tournament time. Not only that, but the 9th Region itself appears to be very strong with both Holmes and Newport Central Catholic among the state's heavy hitters. The Colonels will face Trinity, featuring center Ray Spalding who is headed to Louisville next year, and then play Holmes at the Bank of Kentucky Center with James “Beetle” Bolden who has committed to play for West Virginia in 2015. Also on the schedule is St. Xavier (Lou.) and St. Xavier (Cin.), Moeller (Cin.), Knott County Central at the BOKC, and Madison Central in the last game of the regular season.

“We try to see every team we could possibly see that we might possibly face later on. Not only in the 9th Region but throughout the state tournament,” Ruthsatz said. “Whether it's big teams further down south, or the quick big city teams, we have to be ready for all of them. I don't mind losing those games. A lot of coaches don't share that, but I don't mind losing those games if you can take something positive from them, and that's all about the progress our kids make each year.”

They may not be quite as talented as a season ago, but come March, these Colonels will know what it takes to get back to the big stage. The pressure of repeating, though, doesn't seem to bother this group.

“I think once the tip goes up, and we get up and down the floor, get some really good competition, I think it will all go back to performance and for them staying on the floor and doing what is best for the rest of the team.”

The Colonels open their season on December 5 at home against Holy Cross.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photo: Covington Catholic's championship team in 2014/RCN file