As the Armstrong boys basketball team exited Minnetonka High School following the conclusion to of its season, head coach Greg Miller was in a position he had never once faced in his tenure.
There were no heartfelt goodbyes. There was no need to pay an ode to a departing senior class, and there certainly didn’t seem to be any sort of finality for the Falcons.
Instead, all of that was replaced by words of encouragement, and a message that it was time to get better, both individually, and as a team.
After all, in an oddity for high school sports, last year’s Armstrong boys basketball team didn’t have a single senior on its roster.
“It was strange,” Miller recalled last week. “Usually, when a season ends, there is some sadness. For us last year, that wasn’t the case. It was, lets get better and come back as a stronger team, because we were all coming back.”
In the ever-changing landscape in the days of transfer-fueled high school sports, Armstrong did undergo some change.
Two players transferred out, another moved away. In return, the Falcons got a transfer of their own in James Morris, who led Maple Grove in scoring with a 15.5 points per game average.
They also return nearly every critical part from last year’s team, including leading scorer Konner Goettsche (13.8 points per game), guards Mitchell Biewen (11.1), Nick O’Hara (9.7) and Cyrus Moore-Brown (6.9).
They also bring back sophomore spark plug Jerome Dixon, and classmate Evan Nolan, who is rated among the best players in his class in all of Minnesota.
Ryan Casperson is also back, and has emerged as a lock in Armstrong’s starting five, and Daniel Carlson has made the type of improvement in his game to garner similar consideration.
In short, this team could be loaded. That is if they heeded the advice Miller shared with them at the end of last year.
“They needed to get better, not just a year older,” Miller said. “And by the looks of how they are playing in practice, they have. We could be pretty good.”
How good is up for discussion. Armstrong opens its season by hosting Andover at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, kick-starting a year in which the Northwest Suburban Conference appears to be as stacked as ever.
A year ago, the Falcons managed just a 5-15 conference record, which placed them ninth in the 11-team league.
Overall, Armstrong finished with a 6-21 mark, far below what has become the norm for a program accustomed to competing at the highest of high school basketball levels.
“It was disappointing, for sure, but I think we’ll be better because of it,” Miller said. “Our guys weren’t happy about it, but they put in the time this summer. We don’t’ have anybody on the team who didn’t put in a lot of work. Our whole team has gotten stronger, and that is the biggest thing.”
Their depth should be a strength as well. Miller said as many as 11 guys could consume the rotation, and he admitted he won’t be shy when it comes to distributing minutes.
Truth be told, with the way the conference looks, and with how the rest of the schedule shapes up – Armstrong also plays No. 8 Wayzata Saturday, Dec. 8 – everybody will have to contribute at some point in what will be a grind of a season.
“It would be easy to get discouraged if you just look at the whole schedule and the section and think about what we are up against,” Miller said. “But it forces you to focus on the game at hand, and it keep your guys focused. There is really no time to take a break, and as a high school kid, that gets you fired up.”