Sterling has speed to burn with new lineup

STERLING – Through ravaged vocal chords, Sterling boys basketball coach Ryan Brown’s voice fills Homer Musgrove Fieldhouse. It’s insisting that his players use their greatest strength – their collective blazing speed.

“I lose my voice every year during two-a-days,” Brown croaks as he crosses his fingers. “Me and Bruce Weber are like this – we’re long-lost brothers.”

Despite his signature rasp, Brown relentlessly spurs his team, particularly over the first 90 minutes of practice.

“The first hour and a half is pretty brutal,” Brown says. “We like to trick them into conditioning. Yeah, we’re playing basketball, but I’m not going to tell them they’re getting a lot of conditioning, too. While you can’t coach speed, you can certainly do things to make your players stronger so they can use it.”

The Golden Warriors, coming off a trip to the Class 3A regional finals, are notorious for their up-tempo style and their full-court press. But they’ll have 10 big shoes to fill this time around, having graduated their entire starting lineup from last season.

The good news is Brown, entering his third season coaching the Warriors, has another quintet of seniors eager to step into those vacated roles.

“There’s a lot of roles to fill,” says one of those seniors, Alejandro Rivera. “But the seniors on this team have been playing together as long as I can remember – even before organized basketball, when we were just kids playing at the park.

“We might not have a superstar who’s going to get a full ride to a Division-I college. But everybody plays together, we’re close friends and we’re not afraid to make the extra pass. We trust each other, and that’s what sets this team apart.”

Another Sterling senior who will start for the Warriors is 6-foot-2 combo guard and fireplug Patrick Petrosky, who missed the bulk of last season with a broken ankle. Needless to say, he’s champing to get off and running.

“This is the fastest team I’ve ever been a part of,” Petrosky says. “And this is a group that will never give up. That’s going to help us.”

Rivera points to Petrosky’s grit as his best attribute.

“He’s a scrappy player who isn’t afraid to stick his nose in there,” Rivera says. “He helps open up things.”

Along with Rivera, an all-state running back, seniors Jose Knox, Chris Fritsch and Marcus Robinson will transition from the gridiron to the hardwood and round out the starting five. Knox will run the offense from the point, the 6-foot-4 Fritsch will be vital in the paint, and Robinson and Rivera’s all-around athleticism will be key.

Another senior, Nathan Blackburn, returns with considerable varsity experience. Junior guard Cornell Hartz is a track star, but Brown says even 6-foot-3, 350-pound forward Jordan Neal takes pride in quickly getting up and down the floor.

“Playing fast-break basketball has got to be our M.O,” Brown says. “Not necessarily run-and-gun. I know it’s not as catchy, but it’s run-and-take-a-good-shot.”

One of Brown’s biggest challenges will be replacing the shooting that graduated this past spring in the form of Drew Pace, Danny Ramirez and Dan Robinson. Pace now plays at Sauk Valley Community College.

That’s why his team will need to hit the court running night in, night out.

“We always get a big run in the second half when the other team starts to crack,” Brown says. “And if a team doesn’t match our intensity right at the start, they’re in trouble.”

2012 Sterling Golden Warriors

Coach: Ryan Brown (3rd season, 28-34)

2011: 16-16, 8-2 NIB-12 West

Key returners: Chris Fritsch, Jose Knox, Patrick Petrosky, Alejandro Rivera, Marcus Robinson

Key losses: Caleb Miller, Drew Pace, Danny Ramirez, Dan Robinson

First five

Monday: at Newman, 7:30

Tuesday: Morrison, 7:30

Wednesday: Princeton, 8

Friday: Dixon, 6:30

Saturday: Rock Falls, 8