By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half
On one of the last summer days in town before leaving for college, Joey Steiner and Cody Ley spotted some youngsters on the east side of Constantine playing basketball in the street on a portable hoop. They stopped and played 2-on-4 with the boys.
The group of eighth-graders talked about how they were going to keep a reignited Falcons basketball program burning hot. That legacy Steiner and Ley, two outgoing seniors who helped fuel the Falcons to an unimaginable turnaround in 2014-15, and their classmates left behind means more than being named Associated Press Class C all-state honorable mentions.
“They told us that they were going to keep it going and they were going to go further than we did,” said Ley, a post player who developed a dangerous inside-outside game over the last two seasons and earned a scholarship at Lake Michigan Community College. “We were like, ‘You guys better, and we’ll be there to work with and support you guys, too.’ That’s one of my biggest things I’m proud of.”
Constantine had just one win in 2013-14, but head coach Chuck Frisbie knew he had a group of dedicated players that was going to surprise folks in 2014-15.
The Falcons did just that, finishing with a 21-3 record after a loss to New Buffalo in the MHSAA Regional Semifinals.
Constantine looks this winter to replace Ley’s 16 points and 12 rebounds per game, as well as the 14 points and four assists per contest by Steiner, who now plays at Goshen College.
Frisbie, last year’s Associated Press Class C Coach of the Year, knows this year’s team will look quite a bit different as it transitions from the now-defunct Kalamazoo Valley Association to the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Different isn’t bad, however.
The Falcons return seniors Anthony Bontrager, Tyler Shank, Noah Beegle, Travis Brown, Brian Doering and Devin Knight. Juniors Evan Herschbach, Anthony Evilsizor, Charles Hamilton, Bryce Corte and Ryan Miller join the varsity fold, and 6-foot-4, springy freshman Seth Wright is expected to make an immediate impact.
Of those players, 10 are 6-foot-1 or taller — a pretty big lineup compared to recent Constantine squads.
“I think we can protect the basket,” Frisbie said. “I think we’re young. (Defense) is my biggest concern this year. Travis, Tyler and Brian can really play defense. I think we can put a crew out there that can play defense, although I don’t know if it is necessarily our best offensive group. We’re going to try to find that right mix.”
Frisbie isn’t putting too much pressure on rookie Wright, but the freshman has tremendous size for a guard and the skills to match.
“Seth is one of those kids that could be a special kid,” Frisbie said. “Honestly, if he’s open, we’re going to let him shoot. He’s the kind of kid that can go to the basket and dunk pretty easily, too. He has to learn how to play defense. More than anything, he has to be able to get wider, rebound and play good defense. If he can do those things, he’s going to be hard to get off the floor.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Anthony Bontrager (11) looks to get to the baseline during a game last season. (Middle) Constantine secures a rebound in a game against Kalamazoo Christian. (Photos courtesy of JoeInsider.com.)