by BRYAN EVERSON
Stepping into a good situation, there was no drop-off for Stoney Creek girls basketball in transition year coaching-wise. Brad Crighton, now in charge of boys basketball at Adams, was replaced by assistant Kellen James, who had the fortune of coaching a team led by a pair of all-Oakland Activities Association selections in Emma Sobczynski and Courtney Eckhout.
The Cougars toppled a pair of talented Macomb County teams in Utica and Eisenhower to reach the regional semifinals before bowing out last season. But the cupboard is far from bare in 2016-17 for James’ group, which includes plenty of seniors, a returning contributor who missed last year, and a player who could be one of the more talented sophomores in all of Oakland County. Stoney has started 1-1, but we spoke to James about his team just before the Cougars’ campaign began.
RRH: Six-straight years Stoney has been in district finals, and three-straight years winning. You’re continuing on a good stretch this year?
Kellen James: We’re real lucky, Brad did a great job and I kind of came into a really good situation last year. I think this year, we can be just as good, if not better. I have eight seniors coming back, nine returners. I have a sophomore now who was pretty much our sixth man last year, she’s probably going to move into the starting lineup. We’ve got some depth and experience, and I think that’s what you want heading into the season
RRH: With two four-year varsity starters (Emma Sobczynski and Courtney Eckhout), to lose that and have eight seniors coming back is a great situation.
KJ: We have three girls on the team now who’ve played varsity for three years, everybody else this is the first year that everybody has played for me at some point in the program, either on the JV or varsity, so we’re starting to get the system in and rolling to where we want it.
RRH: With Emma and Courtney, what are the biggest voids to fill, is it leadership?
KJ: I think Emma was a great post player, Courtney was a tough leader. The post spot is going to be tough to fill, because when you have an all-league post player and an all-league power forward we’re going to have to try some different things this year. Last year, it was more pound it inside with Courtney and Emma, this year we’re going to spread it out and be more of a transition team. We have [senior] Morgan Porter back as a point guard, she missed all last year with an ACL injury. With her back, we can move Emily Solek select back to the wing where she’s more comfortable. Ally Voss can play some stretch-4 for us, she can play on the wing, also. We have options this year, that’s the biggest thing.
RRH: Ally’s capable of shooting the 3.
KJ: When she is believing that she can shoot the ball, I think he’s one of the best shooters in Oakland County. She’s a great 3-point shooter, she’s got a great mid-range shot. With her, we talk about believing, believing, believing. She’s got the green light anywhere on the floor.
RRH: How about replacing what you lost in the post, do you think by spreading the floor you can mitigate that?
KJ: I don’t think you have to have a “throw it in the post” player to have a good game in the paint. I think we’ll be a team that can attack the paint, so that can do almost the same thing. If we’re attacking, attacking, that’s going to be one of those things where we don’t have to worry about finding somebody [as much].
RRH: How do you weigh the strength of the division compared to last year?
KJ: We’re in a tough division, a tough league again. We set our schedule up this year a little different knowing that, so we have some tough early games. At this point, everybody is 0-0, so I don’t look too far ahead. I think we’ll be able to compete every night, one of the teams everybody’s talking about.
RRH: How about that non-league schedule?
KJ: We play Holly in the opening game. Then we have Chandler Park, Utica, Seaholm, Belleville, Flint Carman-Ainsworth. We play Kettering at home on the 21st, that’s kind of our before Christmas schedule. It’s a tough one.
RRH: How about Emily Eckhout, I think there’s talk about her being on of the better freshman around.
KJ: I think she’s got to be in the sophomore class — in my book, she’s one of the top three sophomores in Oakland County. She comes in looking to learn, wanting to get better. She was in the gym all summer long. She’s athletic, strong. She did a lot of lifting in the summer, and I think she’s going to step into a starting role, not just as a sophomore, but just another person on the floor.
RRH: Where she’s improved?
KJ: I think her ball-handling, her confidence. She played with a different AAU program and I think that gave her a different view. She had to play a little out of position, and I think it gave her a different perspective of the game that was good for her.
RRH: How about Emily?
KJ: Emily Solek is one of our leaders. She’s an unbelievable athlete, and unbelievable kid. That’s one thing, we’re blessed with some really good leadership this year. These girls have really good chemistry together.
RRH: Does some of that come from, Stoney has had success in other sports and you bring some of those leaders over to your team?
KJ: Two of our seniors were on the state championship soccer team, other kids in the program there. We have kids that have been in high-pressure situations with us, and in other sports as well. Hopefully that translates this year for us.
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