The 2021-22 Hudson boys basketball season was a rough one under first year head coach Tommy Stockard.
Heading into last year the Explorers top seven scorers were gone. They opened the year without the services of super-sophomore Tino Yli-Junilla and their big man, Michael Steel.
This year the Explorers return their top three scorers from a year ago (Yli-Junilla; 14.0 points per game), Steel; 10.9 and Luke Brennan; 7.7) and 72 percent of the scoring from that team.
The trio of returning starters also gives Hudson size and shooting. Yli-Junilla, Steel and Brennan go 6-4, 6-7 and 6-4 respectively and combined to make 80 three pointers a year ago.
Hudson's size and shooting ability goes beyond the big-three.
"We have a little bit of everything," Stockard said. "I don’t know that we are going to be exceptional at any one thing. Ask me what our strength is and I’m going to say I don’t know. We are okay at everything …we're kind of well-rounded and that’s awesome.”
The unknown is also there for Stockard and his squad as nearly half of the roster had only been with the team for a few days. With the football team extending its season four week, many on the roster have had only a handful of practices.
“Our depth is a really good thing to have. Since, the three days we have had the football guys back, the competition level in the gym has been next level; like I’ve never seen before since I’ve been at Hudson,” Stockard added.
Despite a 1-11 mark in Suburban League (National Conference) play a year ago Stockard sees this year’s race as wide open with his team in the mix.
“This might be the best our league has ever been and I throw us in there. We had a really good summer and we are much improved. There is a lot of top talent coming back. I don’t know who the top team is going to be,” Stockard explained. “Brecksville will be good again; Wadsworth might have the best player in the league in Solomon Callaghan and a pretty good supporting cast. Stow is huge; Nordonia has about eight or nine seniors and are physical. Twinsburg lost the Player of the Year (Anthony McCarthy) but is really athletic and North Royalton can shoot from anywhere.”
While the league will be tough top to bottom the Explorers schedule is brutal to start. Hudson opens Dec.2 at Austintown Fitch and stays on the road through the first seven games. The Explorers first home game isn’t until Dec. 23 when they host Streetsboro.
The second weekend of the season has Hudson playing out of state for the first time ever. They take on the Trojans of Erie McDowell (PA) on Dec. 9. The winner will play the Cleveland Benedictine/Grand River Academy winner the next day.
“We thought it would be cool. It’s a good team experience and good for team bonding,” Stockard noted. “The kids are excited about it.”
Hudson senior class leads off with guard Jagger Pallay (5-11).
“Jagger had an outstanding summer. He did a great job of finding ways to balance basketball with football. As a quarterback of the football team showing up to all of our basketball stuff sends a great message. He played really well; he had a whole different sense of confidence.”
Steel (6-7) returns to start at center.
“Michael has been great; kind of the ring leader getting basketball guys together. He wants to play college basketball and has a lot of schools looking at him. He has really improved his shot. He spent the summer working on the inside and has really expanded his game. He is shooting the ball really well from the outside.”
Steel was the top rebounder last year and was second on the team in scoring with 251 points. Included in that was a team best 47 points at the free throw line.
Senior forward Nate Miller (6-6) will have larger role this winter.
“Miller had a good summer and a really good pre-season. He’s had some extra opportunities with all the football players and has taken advantage of that. He’s not the most athletic or skilled but he is always in the right spot. He never makes mental mistakes, he knows our sets, and he buys into boxing out and rebounding. When he’s open he can make shots from the three-point line.”
Brennan (6-4) will also be asked to pick up the scoring load.
“Luke also had a great summer. He is a really good shooter and has good size. We have been working on him becoming tougher with the ball and attacking off the dribble. He’s getting better at it; we want him to be more aggressive and take it to the rack, not just settle for three-point shots.”
Brennan was third on the team a year ago with 170 points. He was second on the squad with 24 made threes.
The Chokan twins each get the call up from junior varsity. Junior Reece and Hunter Chokean each are 5-10
“Reece’s strength is he is a good shooter. He and his brother both are tough as nails. They play solid defense and take charges. Reece is a pretty good outside shooter. He’s a gym rat; always in the gym working on his game.”
“Hunter is one of our football guys. He and his brother play very similar; play defense, dive on the floor, take charges and are physical. His outside game has gotten better.”
Chokan was the top scorer on the JV last season with 204 points and had eight varsity points.
Junior Nolan Yanak (6-2) suffered a broken collar bone in week three of the football season and returned to action in the final wees.
“Nolan made a commitment to basketball all summer long. At times this summer he was our MVP. He did everything; he would score for us, was one of our best one on one defenders, rebounded and ran the floor really well. He was versatile all summer long.”
Now a junior, Stockard expects an even bigger season from Yli-Junilla.
“Tino is an absolute gym rat. He and Mike lead the pack putting time in. Tino is a phenomenal shooter but he can’t be one dimensional. He’s become a ton better; becoming a much better on ball defender, he’s getting a lot tougher. We challenged the guys this year about being stronger in the weight room; he’s our strongest man right now benching 215.”
Yli-Junilla made 48 triples a year ago as a sophomore. He led Hudson in scoring with 293 points and a 77 percent shooting effort from the free throw line (33-43).
Hudson will look for outside scoring punch from junior Fritz Trautmann (6-1).
“Fritz shoots the ball really well. He’s a pretty good athlete. We are looking for him to become more of a point guard for us. Fritz’s IQ is off the charts. He knows where to be, makes great passes, gets us in our offenses and can read defenses. To me the x-factor for him is going to be shooting the ball.”
Another football player joining the varsity ranks is junior Ian Robb (6-2).
“Ian came to our first shootout at Mount Union and got his four front teeth knocked out. He is one of the toughest kids in our program; always diving, taking charges, he’s a phenomenal athlete. He plays his role to the best. He’s a tough kid who had a really good football season.”
Depth in the back court will come from junior Joey Schneider (5-10)
“Joey did a nice job running the point guard spot for us. What I am most proud of Joey for is he is kind of undersized but still does a nice job running the offense. He has done a great job limiting turnovers and is very unselfish.”
Rounding out the varsity roster is sophomore Caleb Fitz (6-2
)“Caleb is going to be in the mix for varsity minutes. He has done a great job committing to basketball this summer. He did a nice job working on his game and has spent a lot of time in the weight room.”
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Hudson boys basketball returns top scorers to the fold