Deep, athletic M-R Titans squad opens season Monday against Ridgewood

Barry McNamara
Special to The Register-Mail
Seniors with the Monmouth-Roseville Titans this year include, from left, Ashton Toal, Silas Braun, Jerome Jackson, River Dean, CJ Johnson, Ryan Leary, Nick Bresnahan and manager Damian King.

MONMOUTH — With Monmouth-Roseville’s first boys basketball game approaching on Monday night at the Orion tournament, Titans coach Jake Sottos hasn’t yet figured out his starting lineup. 

To fill the five slots, he has at least 11 choices, the number of starters he’d have if he was coaching football. Coincidentally, many of those starter possibilities are among the 10 players who just made the jump to the hardwood from the gridiron, where the Titans qualified for the playoffs for the second straight season. 

“It’s a good problem to have,” said Sottos of his wealth of options. “It’ll be a matter of getting different combinations out on the court and seeing who’s gelling with each other.” 

The all-conference football trio of seniors CJ Johnson, Jerome Jackson and Silas Braun will all suit up for Sottos and figure to see plenty of playing time. 

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“Silas is a good kid to have on the court,” said Sottos of the Titans’ signal caller the past three seasons. “He has that quarterback mentality, so he’s very vocal and he gets the guys in the right place. He’s a big, strong kid for his size, so he’s going to play a little 3-4 for us.” 

Several players are in the mix to play the the point guard slot, including Jake Steele and football players Nick Bresnahan and Tyler Finnicum. 

Other football players on the squad are James Blackman, River Dean, Leo Mahoney, Darrion Smith and Ashton Toal. Additionally, junior Nico Avendano has previous football experience with the Titans before switching this season to soccer, where he had a starting role. 

As M-R went 18-12 last year, Johnson netted eight points a game and dished out three assists, while Jackson averaged six points. Sottos said both players slot into the 2-3 role in the lineup. 

“CJ and Jerome are both slashers,” said the second-year Titan coach. “We have a couple guys who can stroke it from deep, but a lot of our offense will be slashing to the hoop and finding open shooters.” 

Johnson and Jackson’s stats are about it for big numbers that return for Sottos, but there are some extenuating circumstances. Braun didn’t play basketball as a junior, and Bresnahan, who is expected to have a key role, missed last season with a broken leg. 

“It’s good to have him back,” said Sottos. “He’s looked good in practice.” 

A portion of M-R’s offense – perhaps a large one – will come from players who haven’t been major varsity contributors before. 

“I think Ashton Toal is going to surprise some people this year,” said Sottos of one of the members of what he called “a good senior class.” 

Contributors from the junior class, which Sottos also believes is talented, will include Finnicum, Smith and Jake Steele on the outside and the team’s “only bigs,” Avendano, Blackman and Dean. Sophomore Martwan Butler could also be a force when he joins the team a few games into the season. 

“I think Darrion is going to surprise some people, too,” said Sottos of the younger brother of former Titan standout Trayvon Smith. “He’s been impressive so far in practice. I’m excited to see what he can do.” 

Also on the varsity roster are seniors Ryan Leary and Jordan Watson and juniors Ty Corsaro and Caleb Miller.  

“We don’t have a lot of height, so we’re going to be four guards out at times,” said Sottos. “We’re very athletic, and we’re feisty. Getting in shape is our No. 1 goal. We’re not there yet. But when we are, we’re going to be a pretty tough team to match up against.” 

M-R’s short-term goal is to win the Orion tournament, which will see the Titans tip off against Ridgewood on Monday. Looking ahead a month, Sottos wants his team to play on the winner’s side of Macomb’s holiday tournament. 

“That’s a tough tournament to win, but we’d like to be in the running for one of the top four spots,” he said. 

At the end of the campaign, Sottos hopes to steer Monmouth-Roseville to its first regional championship since the 2014-15 season. 

His squad will have several tests along the way, not only in tournament action but against a trio of state-ranked squads – No. 3 Columbia (coached by former Roseville standout Mark Sandstrom), Quincy Notre Dame and TRAC rival Rockridge, which is on the schedule twice. The Titans will also play a Western Big 6 squad, traveling to East Moline on Feb. 4 to meet United Township.