EDWARDSVILLE - The Alton High School boys' basketball team has struggled the last two seasons, going 4-23 in 2021-22 and 6-26 in 2022-23. Now, there is renewed confidence and optimism around the Redbirds as they use their summer season to prepare for the upcoming 2023-24 season.
Alton lost a close decision to Confluence Academy of St. Louis 44-34 in the NCAA Live Showcase event Saturday afternoon at Lucco-Jackson Gym in Edwardsville, but the team has shown vast improvement this summer and has a winning record in the games they have played during the summer season, giving hope that the Redbirds may be getting ready to have a big breakout season.
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"I certainly hope so," said Alton head coach Dylan Dudley when asked if he believes his squad has improved from last season. "But, yeah, we have had a really, really good summer. And the thing about summer for us - I'm not saying how we do things is right, I'm not saying how we do things is wrong - we put very little stuff in.
"We have our base defense of our press that we're doing now. We have a little bit of our base offense. But for me, in the summer, for the boys and why they've grown so much. Summer, for me, is about figuring out what you're good at and figuring out what you're bad at, as a team and individually. Now, I want to throw guys out in situations that they, in essence, get exposed and I want to see how they respond. Wins and losses always matter, but if we're being honest, wins and losses in the summer really don't matter. You want to win more than you lose, which we have this summer. I don't know what our record is, but I do know we've won a lot more games than we've lost; I think we've played 31 games already, I think.
"It's been a really good summer for us," Dudley continued. "We've seen a lot of different styles of play, we've seen a lot of different, good players. So it's really exposed what we need to work on and we're just really excited. There's a lot of enthusiasm, there's a lot of excitement in our program and I'm really, really thankful for it."
Dudley is also confident that the program may be ready to take off and are led by juniors-to-be Kobe Taylor and Hasani Elliott, who will lead a team that has gained much experience. And Dudley also credited the player's parents for keeping their kids on track as well.
"Yeah, I hope so," Dudley said. "And we're led by those two guys, Kobe and Sani, Alex Macias, Tra Sims. who's out; he just broke his ankle in Marion, six-five, six-six kid who's come a long, long way. I'm really proud of Tra. And Samage (Stampley), Byron's younger brother who's really talented and we've got other sophomore kids that are really talented. So, those kids and their parents deserve all the credit. We have really, really good kids, but on top of that, I tell people all the time. The reason we have really good kids is that their parents. I'm just really, really excited going forward, because of the work they've put in and I know where it can get to if they keep putting that work in."
And it will come in handy during Southwestern Conference games, where every night, it's very highly competitive, with some of the best basketball in the state being played.
"Yeah, the Southwestern Conference is no joke," Dudley said. "It's kind of funny, I had – I don't know where we were at, I think we were at Marion - and had a guy come up to me. He said 'Well, coach, everyone should be alright in the Southwestern Conference, everyone's just not as good as last year.' And I said 'the Southwestern Conference that we play in?' I said I'm not sure if it's ever not good," he said with a smile. "So, it's cool getting out and seeing the other coaches and seeing the teams and seeing what they have, the younger kids coming up and stuff. So there are no off-nights in the Southwestern Conference. We'll challenge ourselves in the non-conference, the three tournaments we're in., so non-conference games. And you've got to win games in the Southwestern Conference. If you win games in the Southwestern Conference, usually, your postseason's successful and it'll take care of itself."
In other words - just another night in the Southwestern Conference, to which Dudley laughed and smiled.
"You know, it's fun," Dudley said. "I tell people all the time that it's really fun on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays when you're preparing. And all of a sudden, you get out there on Tuesdays and Fridays, you're playing a Southwestern Conference game and I say 'I'm not sure this is that much fun,'" he said with another smile and laugh. "Just really, really good coaches, really, really just good men. Really good people; we're all pulling in the same direction, and we're all for our kids. Obviously, when we're strapping up and we're playing against the other competitor, we're trying to beat them, just like they're trying to beat us. But it's a lot of fun, it's a lot of fun. I know the boys have fun, It'll really tell you what you're good at, what you're not good at.
"And I've learned a lot from my first season to this season, I've learned a lot," Dudley continued. "The style of play, how we have to play; is it physical, is it athletic? How the officials call games, when you go on the road, how you go on the road. All this stuff that, maybe, the general fan wouldn't think to think about. But as a coach, we're always thinking that stuff. So, I enjoyed my first year. Obviously, it was a tough year for us. We were in a rebuilding mode; nobody was running from that. But we're looking forward to year two, we're looking forward to year three, year four, down the road. We'll just continue to put our heads down, have a lot of fun and try to be better than we were yesterday."
Indeed, Dudley is feeling very confident about the upcoming season.
"I'm excited. Yeah, I'm excited," Dudley said. "I don't want it to get here anytime soon, I'll be honest with you," he said with his infectious laugh and smile. "June is a lot. As I said, we've played 31 games in, say, 24 days, maybe 22 days. So it's a lot, so I think we and some of the boys are looking forward to a break in July and the first couple of weeks in August, we'll give them off. So we'll have some time to get away; selfishly with my coaching staff will have some time to get away with our families, too. So, I don't want the season to start anytime soon. I want to finish June strong and then, we'll worry about the season coming up in November and December and all that stuff."
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