By ANDY HEINTZ
Courier Sports Writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Kevin Kanaskie casually joked around with his some of his players Thursday afternoon in his classroom before he discussed the past and future of the Ottumwa boys basketball program.
Kanaskie, dressed in casual clothes that conveyed a laid back vibe that stood in stark contrast to the suits he adorns at games, was optimistic about the future of the struggling program he took over this season.
"I think we played a lot of young guys," Kanaskie said. "We started at one point in the season three sophomores and two juniors. We do have a lot coming back and we did improve even though our record didn't indicate it. We improved from the beginning of the season to the end."
Despite the Bulldogs 2-21 record, the coach noted some of the highlights that decorated the season.
"The first game of the year we played really well, we put up 79 points, we were up by nine at the half," Kanaskie said. "Then getting our first win on the road in two years at Fairfield was a big step for our team. We had the ball with two free throws with 40 seconds to go in the substate game and came up short in overtime, but those are the high points of the year."
Although his players were fighting an uphill battle for most of the season, Kanaskie said they never succumbed to feelings of despair or despondency.
"I think our players did a really good job of staying positive and coming everyday to practice and working hard," Kanaskie said. "Even after a tough loss our players did a really good job of trying to work hard every game and keep a positive mindset."
Still, some losses are more painful than others.
"Losing the close games when we were in a position to win is always frustrating," Kanaskie said, "but then again, looking at the tapes, we did a lot of things well and we have things we can build on."
One of the main obstacles that face Kanaskie and his team is the tall task of being competitive in the talent-packed CIML Metro Conference.
"We just have to be ready to play," Kanskie said. "The CIML Metro teams are good, we need to make shots, we can't beat ourselves. A couple of times this season with a lot turnovers and defensive mistakes, we beat ourselves. We just can't shoot ourselves in the foot, so to speak and we will be all right."
The coach already has some offseason activities planned for his team before the upcoming season.
"We just need to work hard in the offseason and I think the wins will take care of themselves," Kanaskie said. "We're going to spend a lot of time in the month of June, July and August playing out of state teams, doing individual workouts and preparing a lot to try and get better for next year."
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