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Wildcats boys basketball: Bring it on

Reigning Big Rivers Conference Player of the Year Jaxon Knotek headlines a list of five returning letterwinners for the 2017-18 Wildcat boys basketball team. The Cats kick off the season with a nonconference game Thursday, Nov. 30, at St. Paul Johnson. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

When you talk about who is back for the River Falls boys basketball team this season, it's nice to have reigning Big Rivers Conference Player of the Year Jaxon Knotek at the top of the list.

Knotek did it all for the Wildcats last season, leading the team in scoring (19.1) and rebounding (5.7) while finishing second in blocked shots and assists and third in steals. He played every position from guard to post while accounting for over one-third of the Wildcat offense.

And head coach Zac Campbell expects even bigger things from the North Dakota State University bound senior this season.

"Jaxon has really improved his game in the off-season where you will see a much more complete player who still possesses an uncanny ability to score the basketball from multiple spots on the court," Campbell said.

Knotek is one of five returning letterwinners for the Wildcats along with junior guards Adam Feyereisen and Taylor Tirrel, senior guard Aaron Baillargeon, and senior forward Ryan Spafford. Campbell said if opposing teams focus solely on stopping Knotek, the Wildcats are ready to make them pay for it.

"Having a point guard in Adam Feyereisen, who has the ability to control the game with his court vision and top notch defensive ability, you take a lot of pressure off of our other guards," Campbell said. "Aaron Baillargeon gives us an experienced off guard who can score in bunches and adding in Payton Flood, Jared Creen, and newcomers Mike Vitt, Zac Johnson, and Drew Everson we have a great deal of guard depth that can stretch the court and score the basketball."

Campbell said what the Wildcats lack in height will be made up for with the athletic ability and unrelenting effort at the team's four and five spots this season.

"Ryan Spafford has had a great offseason and I look forward to him leading our interior scorers," he said. "Taylor Tirrel can stretch the floor with his shooting ability. Add in the length and effort of Tim Rixmann and Nick Simpson and we have a group of front court players that will be tough matches for teams with average speed in their bigs."

Campbell said this year's team features a level of athleticism the Wildcats haven't had in quite some time.

"We will hopefully be able to be more diverse offensively and defensively with our athletic abilities," he said. "Our hopes offensively are to be able space the court and take advantage of our quickness and added ability to shoot the basketball from three."

Across the Big Rivers Conference, Knotek is one of seven first or second team all-conference players back for their respective teams, meaning there will be no "off nights" for any team.

"Eau Claire North and Rice Lake went toe-to-toe for the conference title last year and both return their core groups of impact players," Campbell noted. "They both will be very tough match-ups for every team within the conference, however, the depth of the league makes for an interesting nightly match-up within the league as each team has key players returning."

The Wildcats open the season Thursday, Nov. 30, at St. Paul Johnson before jumping right into BRC action with a rivalry game at home against Hudson Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 7:15 p.m. Campbell said the first month of the season will be vital.

"Through off-season workouts we had a great deal of individual development occur in terms of both skill and physical strength and quickness," he said. "However, we were really never able to develop a consistent summer lineup of what is now our varsity team. Familiarity with our system and player to player communication takes a lot of time to develop and will be very important for us in the first month of the season."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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