It’s not how coach Cole Knippling envisioned his second offseason with the Kernels, though it’s a better sight than the empty gym he pictured a month ago. Knippling’s system is in place after an 8-13 campaign, and while the team-building aspect might have to wait until the winter, he’s convinced the Kernels can improve during an unconventional summer.
How Mitchell improves might look different than he initially thought when he detailed his plan following Sioux Falls Washington bouncing it out of the SoDak 16 in March, but positives can still come out of the next few months.
Mitchell has five workout groups of 5-6 girls each, ranging from grades 7-12, who each meet twice per week to focus on ball-handling, shooting and finishing at the rim. Knippling is pleased with the turnout since teams were allowed to start practicing on June 1, but he hopes it continues to grow throughout the summer.
“It’s kind of a blessing in terms of sometimes you don’t focus on the skills enough. Sometimes you end up playing with the skillset you have in the summer,” Knippling said. “… We’re focusing on the skills and skills only. We can’t pass to each other. We can’t play one-on-one, can’t play five-on-five, so we’re working on the fundamental skills of the game.”
The South Dakota High School Activities Association lists basketball as a “moderate risk” on its three-phase guidelines. It recommends individual drills and use of equipment in Phase One, as well as only 10 people inside. Phase Two recommends sharing of equipment with intermittent cleaning and the final phase calls for a full practice and up to 50 people present.
With sanctioned practices lasting through Aug. 2, Knippling is hopeful team camps and open gyms can take place after July 4. He recognizes the fluid situation, though.
“About a month ago, I didn’t know if I would see them at all this summer,” he said. “I’m thankful that we’re allowed to do anything. I think the skill work will be great for it.”
Knippling’s original plan has changed “dramatically.” It’s a give-and-take mentality when looking at how the summer will treat the Kernels.
While it gives them a chance to improve their skillsets, the live reps can’t be replicated, especially while following social distancing guidelines.
“This will help their skill set. Having to focus the entire time on skills, hopefully their skill sets will grow,” Knippling said. “It will hurt their basketball IQ in terms of the knowledge of what to do versus a defense where you can’t react to a defense.”
For a coach who consistently preached the need to play as a unit during his first year, being unable to pass or play together hurts as the Kernels also hoped to develop more depth around its five-senior starting lineup. The entire team can’t even be in the gym together yet.
That puts an added importance during winter’s preseason practices, where the Kernels will try to find ways to limit turnovers, run the floor better and get the ball inside more often and effectively.
He thinks seeing each other still helps team camaraderie. Having a year under his system also helps, even if some of the tweaks and changes will have to wait.
“We’re going to have to really do a great job in the winter in the team building aspect — playing together (and) working together,” Knippling said. “Because right now we’re on our own island. Each one’s got their own basket and trying to do their own thing.”