Photo by Bill Roseberry
Granite City’s D.J. Miller passes the ball to a teammate during a game at home vs. Civic Memorial on Jan. 13. The Warriors won the game 55-52 over the Eagles, tripling their win total from a year ago.
The Granite City Warriors won two games in the ‘13-14 season. They have already tripled that in ‘14-15.
The Warriors were 6-10 entering this week but still have work to do. Fortunately, the outlook is much more positive than it was a year ago. Still searching for that coveted first win in the Southwestern Conference is frustrating, but head coach Steve Roustio has witnessed vast improvement.
“With kids, especially coming out of a year where we were 2-25, that’s hard on everybody,” Roustio said. “The kids knew we were going to play a lot of man last year and we were just going to focus on getting better. Coming out of a pretty decent summer and having most everybody back, we had a pretty decent Thanksgiving tournament, but then we struggle in our conference. It’s not like every night is a struggle. We almost came back and knocked off Collinsville (Jan. 6) after being down by like 24. We cut it to two and lost by four, so we’re fighting.
“We’re growing, but what we have to do is find out how important it is that every single possession in our conference matters. It just does. We can’t take ill-advised shots, we can’t forget to box out two possessions in a row, we can’t be lackadaisical with the ball and turn it over and we’ve got to get shots off. Tuesday and Friday in our league is just brutal.”
Granite City had a promising match against Belleville East, which was also winless in the SWC on Jan.16, but lost 65-62 after leading 46-38 after three quarters. That came on the heels of a solid 55-52 win over Civic Memorial of the Mississippi Valley Conference on Jan. 13.
Part of the improvement can easily be attributed to the return of senior guard D.J. Miller. Miller had a team-high 20 points vs. the Eagles and scored 17 in the loss to the Lancers. He was averaging 11.9 ppg entering Monday.
Miller missed last season due to injury, but Roustio said his presence and athleticism is welcomed with open arms. A senior, Miller started for the Warriors as a sophomore.
“Miller has helped just with his physicality,” Roustio said. “He’s 6-foot-2.5 and he’s pretty physical. He can jump and he can shoot. If (the CM game) helps his confidence for just being able to knock down shots, it will help.”
Of course, junior leading scorer Kenny Berry has showed improvement after being thrown in the fire during his sophomore season. Berry was averaging a team-best 16.7 ppg and a team-high 2.3 assists per game entering this week.
Opponents are keying on Berry, something Roustio actually is pleased to see.
“Last year teams were aware he could score and aware he could shoot, but now they are actually doing something about it with their actions,” Roustio said. “They’re shading him, they’re putting their best defensive player on him nightly, they’re double-teaming him, they’re boxing him. Collinsville boxed him in the fourth quarter and I can’t remember a Southwestern Conference team running a box-and-1 against us since I’ve been here. I think that’s the first time.
“He’s drawing off of what he was able to accomplish last year getting third-team all-conference and what he’s been able to do by being the second-leading scorer in our conference, although we haven’t won a game. He’s drawing a lot of attention to himself. He was all-tournament at Schnucks and very much a part of why we were able to beat Decatur MacArthur and Decatur Eisenhower. He’s gaining respect.”
Other major contributors to the Warriors this season are: Tra’ron Allen (8.2 ppg.), Jalen Banks (4.3 ppg.), Raekwon Jackson (3.2 ppg.) and Jake Roustio (3.3 ppg.). Ron Allen (5.7 ppg.) is sidelined due to injury right now but will be a key cog when he returns. Tra’ron Allen has also missed time this season due to injury.
Roustio thinks it’s just a matter of figuring out roles on the team to make an improvement for the stretch run and hopefully get that elusive first SWC victory.
“We’ve got to re-evaluate, but I will say this, if our guys are going to hear this once, they’re going to hear it 50 times, usually since I’ve been here Granite City teams have played better the second time against conference teams,” he said. “That’s something we are going to have to hang our hat on.
“We have all the pieces, everybody just has to figure out, ‘What’s my piece to the puzzle?’ Everybody just has to do what they do and show what they bring to the table to make our team better.”