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Season Preview: Deep, veteran team returns for Eagles boys basketball

New Life Academy returns a deep and talented team for what should be another strong boys basketball season in 2016-2017. (Photo by John Molene)

Veteran coach Doug Linton is a bit reluctant to name names, but with several players back from last season’s 24-5 boys basketball team the New Life Academy Eagles figure to be strong again.

The Eagles went 14-2 in the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association last season, finishing a game back of champion Heritage Christian while handing Heritage its only conference loss.

The Eagles ripped off 14 straight wins to end the regular season a year ago. New Life Academy then beat Trinity and St. Paul Academy before falling to St. Croix Lutheran in the section semifinals.

Replacing graduated seniors Brad Goulet and Ebenezer Ketema will be the first order of business for the team. Goulet led the Eagles with 17.9 points a game while Ketema added 11.0 points per game.

Eight seniors who played last season are back to lead the Eagles, along with some juniors who also logged significant varsity minutes a year ago.

“We have a really deep team, we have a lot of guys returning,” said Linton, now in his 18th season directing the Eagles and 28th season overall. “Obviously, we lost two or three seniors that played a lot, but we had a lot of guys play for us last year, and we’ve got some guys from the JV team that was very successful last year. … We’ve got a very deep team that’s played a lot of basketball.

“So I think our expectations are pretty high this year. We’ve got some guys who can definitely handle the ball, can shoot, can score. We’ve got some nice inside post players that have a year of experience now and have gotten a little stronger. So I really like our depth this year, and I think we can do some great things, both in the conference and in the section and region.”

Senior guard Adam Busch will be counted on to be one of the leaders for the Eagles. He averaged 9.6 points and 4.2 rebounds a game last season.

But balance may be the buzzword for the Eagles this season.

“If we can play good team defense and control the boards we’re going to be successful,” Linton said. “I think this is a fun team that can play.

“We’re not going to be one of those teams that rely on one or two players. I think we’re going to have a lot of balance on this team. Different guys can lead us at different times and have good nights for us, which I think makes us tough to defend. You can’t just zero on one or two guys. You’re going to really have to stop an entire team.”

“If we can improve defensively and do a good job on the boards and play tough, I think we’re going to be a tough out.”

Defending conference champion Heritage Christian returns as a favorite, Linton said. Powerhouses St. Croix Lutheran and Minnehaha Academy figure to again be the top teams in the Class 2A, Section 4 bracket.

The Eagles open the season Dec. 2 at Christ’s Household of Faith (CHOF), then host St. Paul Humboldt Dec. 6.