2012-13 Winter Preview: Woodbury boys basketball has 'big ups'Renard Suggs got to eat at the big table last year, but he only got a taste. Now he wants to devour the feast.
By: Mike Longaecker, edtior, Woodbury Bulletin
Renard Suggs got to eat at the big table last year, but he only got a taste. Now he wants to devour the feast.
The 6-foot 3-inch Woodbury senior said his team’s trip to the 2012 state basketball tournament – which ended with a quarterfinal overtime loss to Hopkins – only left him hungrier to return to Minnesota’s big dance.
“It felt great,” Suggs, who averaged 13.4 points per game last year, said of the experience at state. “We should have won. Hopefully we can make it there again.”
The Royals are looking to defend their Section 4AAAA title this year with a mix of returning players and new faces that will tackle a fierce Suburban East Conference, where foes like section runner-up Roseville, East Ridge and Stillwater loom.
Woodbury head coach Scott Swansson will look to three of last year’s bench players to take on a larger role aside Suggs and fellow 2012 starter Robert Claypool. Swansson said those players should include guard Diallo Powell, forward Mario Franco and guard Matt Ambriz.
The blend of talent means offense won’t be a problem, but Swansson cautioned that disciplines like rebounding and defense need to be embraced in order to build on last year’s success.
“We could be really good or we could be really average,” he said. “It depends on how hard guys want to work.”
Suggs said that won’t be a problem. He said last year’s trip to state taught him that teamwork, hustle and communication are key components behind winning.
“Just working hard,” the guard said.
And playing with confidence – an element Suggs is carrying in spades as the first tipoff nears.
“We’ve got kind of a swagger about us,” he said. “We feel like we can beat anybody in Minnesota.”
He would know. During the summer, Suggs played on the elite Minneapolis-based Howard Pulley Basketball team alongside the likes of Tyus Jones, the state’s top collegiate recruit who is in his junior year at Apple Valley.
The Howard Pulley team traveled the country playing tournaments that Suggs said helped mold him into a stronger player while playing with some of the state’s top talents.
“Everything about me has improved,” Suggs said, estimating his play last years as a seven out of a possible 10. “Now I feel like 10 out of 10.”
Suggs, who generated interest last year from the University of Northern Iowa, said he has been getting attention from more colleges this year, including the University of Minnesota, Jacksonville State, Indiana State, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and South Dakota State University. He said his plan for now, however, is to enroll in junior college next year in hopes of joining the Golden Gophers in his second collegiate year.
The Royals will need Suggs – and other players – to be in top form, especially after losing a host of high-scoring players to graduation. They include Connor McKeen (13.0 PPG), Rickey Suggs (12.8 PPG), Ryan Fritze (9.7 PPG) and Ben Rexroth (5.9 PPG).
Swansson said the 2012 team executed a formula that worked: “Everybody kind of put their ego aside and wanted to win games together.”
He pointed to positive signs that this year’s squad could do the same. In addition to Suggs, other players put in long hours in the gym during the offseason and in summer leagues.
“I think we put in the work this summer,” Swansson said. “I think everyone’s ready to go.”
Those players also got a lesson in leadership from the 2012 seniors, the coach said.
“It just doesn’t happen,” he said. “You’ve got to put in the work.”
That message connects with Suggs.
“I think I’m ready to take on the leadership role,” he said.
Swansson noted that Woodbury fans should expect to see a modified version of the offense this year – one predicated on spreading the floor to create open three-point opportunities and drives to the hole.
“Win or lose, we’ll be fun to watch,” he said.
Swansson said others looking to contribute this year include juniors Ben Rizzardi, Ben Myers, Nick Yan, Isaiah Codden, Charlie Olson and Reid Peters.
Woodbury gets to see where its stands against tough competition right out of the chute: the team was selected to the invite-only Breakdown USA Tip Off Classic, played Dec. 8 at Hopkins. The Royals begin play against Buffalo.
The team returns to the court Dec. 11 in a road matchup against Shakopee before playing host Dec. 13 to Edina.