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ANDY ROBERTS/Beacon File Photo

Reeths-Puffer guard Kaleb Mitchelson goes up for a shot against Grand Rapids Christian’s Sam VerSteeg during a game last season. Mitchelson is the team leader coming into this year.

Reeths-Puffer spent the past few seasons steadily rising to the ranks of a contender in the area, finishing second in the O-K Black Conference twice in a row behind only powerhouse Muskegon. This year, the Rockets have to reload.

Several of last season’s most athletic and experienced players have graduated, including three four-year varsity players: 1,000-point scorer Emcee Williams, impressive post player Josh Jordan, and Swiss army knife Gary Humphrey. Daven Fox, maybe the team’s best all-around athlete and defender, is also gone.

“We won’t have the athleticism to replace what those guys brought, but we have a really nice mix of size and skilled players who I think can help us win in different ways this season,” Rockets’ coach Lance Johnson said.

The most seasoned of those players is senior point guard Kaleb Mitchelson. Mitchelson enters his fourth season as a starter and is coming off a first team all-conference selection in 2019-20 after averaging 12.5 points and 5.7 assists per game. He’ll be the centerpiece of the Rocket offense, with everything flowing through him.

His top target for passes will likely be Kendall Smith, another senior. Smith, a forward, is a very good athlete and averaged seven rebounds and 1.5 blocks per night last year. His 7.5 scoring average should significantly rise this year as he tries to fill in the gaps left behind by the Rockets’ departures.

“Keleb and Kendall will be the clear leaders of this year’s team,” Johnson said. “They will both be among some of the top players in the area. Both guys lead by example with exceptional work ethic, and they are starting to become vocal leaders as well.”

R-P could’ve really used an off-season to acclimate its largely new roster together, but it didn’t get one due to the pandemic. Johnson said several players did well to improve their games on their own, but getting everyone functioning together as a unit will take some time.

“The uncertainty has been very challenging this winter, but even more so was the inability to get in the gym this summer and compete in summer tournaments,” Johnson said.

The Rockets’ abbreviated schedule will consist mainly of conference games, and as with everyone’s schedule, is subject to change. However, in the realigned O-K Green Conference, R-P’s target is the same: The Muskegon Big Reds, who should be league favorites. Zeeland East, who took second place in last year’s iteration of the Green, should also be a contender.

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