Grain Valley gets to work replacing star forward: 'We're all going to need to step up our game'

By Bill Althaus
The Examiner
Grain Valley basketball coach Andy Herbert discusses strategy with his team during a scrimmage Monday at Van Horn High School. The Eagles beat Fort Osage and lost to Hogan Prep and the host Falcons in their first time on the court playing against another school since March.

Grain Valley boys basketball coach Andy Herbert couldn't help but smile. 

He was on the bench at Van Horn High School watching his Eagles play their first opponent since March, and he liked what he saw. 

The Eagles were playing solid defense, hitting their fair share of 3-pointers and grabbing a few rebounds – all of which will be essential this winter when they play real games without Cole Keller, a graduate who averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per game last season. 

"I don't know which we're going to miss more," Herbert said, "the 19 points or the 10 rebounds. I know – and more importantly, the guys know – that we don't have one player who will be able to make up what we're going to be missing from Cole, but everyone stepped up their game against Fort Osage and we looked pretty good for our first scrimmage." 

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The Monday scrimmages complemented the Thursday Throw Downs at Van Horn as Falcons coach Max Sollars is giving area teams the chance to get in plenty of playing time this summer without having to pay the cost of an elite camp. 

"I love Andy and his kids," Sollars said, "and I know they're going to come over to our place and work hard, get in some playing time and make my kids better because we're going to have to work hard to have success against them." 

The Falcons did work hard, and claimed a 46-34 win over the Eagles. 

"Max's kids went to the final four last year and finished third in the state," Herbert said. "We're going to be so much better playing them, and playing teams like Fort Osage and Hogan (who beat the Eagles 38-26). We know what we have to work on, and you get so much more accomplished in the summer in a scrimmage than you can playing against your own teammates." 

Grain Valley guard Owen Herbert takes a shot during a game last season. Herbert will be one of the Eagles players this year trying to fill the void left by graduating senior Cole Keller.

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Herbert's son Owen, who will be a junior guard this winter, agreed with his father. 

"Today was a great learning experience," Owen said. "In our win against Fort Osage, we were effective shooting 3-pointers and we rebounded well and played solid defense. It was kind of strange being out there without Cole because he was such a presence on both ends of the court last year. 

"He was a beast rebounding and when we needed a big basket, he got it. This season, we're all going to need to step up our game. We didn't play as well against Van Horn and Hogan as we did against Fort, and that is something that will make us a stronger team because we're going to know what we need to work on."