ROCKFORD — Guilford used to be the most up-and-down boys basketball team in the NIC-10, finishing 6-20 two years before the Vikings finished second in the state in 1993, then dropping to 12-16 the next season.
The Vikings also went 3-13 in the NIC-10 in 1999 before going 14-2 the next two years. On and on it went. Until it didn’t. Since the 2007 team went 23-7, it’s been simply down, 11 consecutive losing seasons (78-226 overall, 41-135 in the NIC-10).
Now, finally, it looks like it’s time to go back up. The Vikings posted their best record since 2010 last year with five sophomores getting regular playing time. The Vikings return their leaders in scoring (Jack Holmstrom, 10.5 points), rebounding (Sam Stewart, 7.4, second in the NIC-10), assists (LaTroy Hunter, 2.8) and blocked shots (Tyler Knuth, 0.9).
“We have a handful of guys that are very versatile and can play inside and out,” said first-year coach Antonio Maestranzi, 34, a former NIU and European pro point guard. “That will present matchup problems for opponents if I do a good job with that.
“We have a group of 10 guys pushing each other for playing time and roles. That can be a huge advantage if we use it all season. We will have some guys come into the spotlight, but different guys will have their moment throughout the season.”
Maestranzi singled out Holmstrom, Knuth and Nik Stadelman as the Vikings who improved the most since the start of summer. Although the Vikings are one of the taller teams in the NIC-10 — Holmstrom, Knuth and Stewart are all 6-4 — Maestranzi plans to press.
“We still have got a long way to go understanding the type of pressure defense we want to play, but I’ve seen a lot of improvement and we want to push it offensively," he said. "We want to get out and run in transition as much as we can.
“That’s definitely a big change, and I can see it’s going to take time to change, but I believe in that style. I also believe as a coach you have to adjust to your personnel. Year in and year out, it’s not going to be the same, but I want to set a foundation of turning defense into offense. You can’t always rely on the ball going into the basket.”
Matt Trowbridge: 815-987-1383; email@example.com; @matttrowbridge
Vikings at a glance
Coach: Antonio Maestranzi (1st year)
Last season: 11-17 (6-10)
Predicted finish: 5th
Returning starters: Jack Holmstrom (6-4 Jr. G/F), Tyler Knuth (6-4 Jr. F), Sam Stewart (6-4 Sr. C), LaTroy Hunter (5-7 Jr. PG), Jamil Jones (6-3, Sr. G).
Other key players: Joey Saunders (6-1 Jr. G), Nik Stadelman (5-10 Jr. G), Alex Rodriguez (5-10 Jr. G).
Strengths: A pair of experienced 6-4 players in Jack Holmstrom and Tyler Knuth, depth, togetherness, hunger.
Weaknesses: Establishing a new identity and learning a new system with a first-year coach.
Outlook: Guilford should be vastly improved and could be .500 or better in the conference for the first time since the Vikings were 23-7 (12-4) in 2007. “We’re heavy with guards and possess some versatile forwards that can attack from inside and the perimeter,” coach Antonio Maestranzi said. “The key will be our ability to pressure on defense and run on offense.”