Unless his players want a seat next to him, Ottumwa High School boys basketball coach Neil Hartz said his team will defend.
It’s how the Bulldogs won big in the past, and it’s how he envisions the program winning this year and beyond.
Hartz, a longtime assistant coach in the program who has been involved in almost all levels of it, takes over the head-coaching reins and becomes the fourth coach in four years, and he served under the others. But he’s also coached on a state tournament team. He’s seen the highs and lows of the program, so he knows what has made it successful.
“We are going to defend,” he said. “My second year here we went to the state tournament because we defended. We feel like if we can keep teams under 50 points, we’ll have a chance to win. If they don’t play defense, they’ll sit on the sideline with me.”
Hartz’s offensive philosophy is two-fold: push the floor on missed baskets, grind on the makes. Either way, the team is built around junior Trae Swartz in the post, and for good reason. The 6-foot-3 Swartz averaged 14.9 points per game, and he will need to play well since the Bulldogs lost their next three leading scorers to graduation.
“We’re putting in an offense where the kids have to read and react,” he said. “But we’re also putting in an offense where we just let them play. It’s not robotic. We’re going to let them play free.”
Though Swartz is a force inside and can take his game to the perimeter, the 3-pointer will continue to be a big part of the offense. Junior Joe Hammer made 16 threes last season.
“Trae doesn’t have to play predominantly on the block. He can post up, drive the ball and shoot the three. We’re going to use all three aspects of his game,” Hartz said. “The three is still going to be a good option for us, because if we’re making teams guard us for 35 or 40 seconds, eventually we’re going to get what we want.”
Right now, Hartz figures eight players will get a bulk of the playing time, but hopes to expand that as the season gets deeper.
“That’s my hope, but if we’re running a lot, we’ll play nine or 10,” he said. “Eight guys have a pretty good idea what we’re doing and a pretty good basketball IQ, but we’ll dress three sophomores who may see some time, and one may see a lot. We’ll see how it goes.”
The Bulldogs have finished in the bottom half of the CIML Metro for a few years, but Hartz hopes the confluence of teams with new coaches and a loss of top-tier talent among the other schools will help Ottumwa make a push up the standings.
“The Metro is a little down. There have been some kids who have transferred to some of the suburban schools and to other Metro schools, and some new coaches,” he said. “I think we have a shot at it. I’m not saying we’ll win it, but top half is not out of the question.”
Hartz is also hoping for a big start for his team. The schedule sets up well before Christmas, and they’ll be facing a shorthanded Ames team in the second game. Highly coveted guard Tamin Lipsey tore an ACL during the summer, sidelining him indefinitely. The final week before Christmas, with road games at Waukee and Des Moines North, will be a test.
But, not only are those challenging games on paper, Hartz knows his team faces internal tests.
“I’ve told our guys since day one that if they want the Metro schools and the schools around there to respect us, we have to beat somebody,” he said. “Until we do, no one will. If we can go out second game and knock off Ames, people will start talking about us.
“That’s my goal,” he said. “I want to get Evans rocking again.”