It might feel like this is all new.

But nothing about this is new to Charleston head coach AJ Alexander. 

With three years of head coaching experience and a front-row seat to the fun and action of last season’s boys’ basketball team, Alexander is ready to continue the excitement for the 2022-23 season. Alexander was Charleston’s JV coach last season, so he is fully aware of what last year meant – and what the team needs to do moving forward. 

This will be Alexander’s fourth fourth season as a varsity head boys basketball coach. Previously, he coached three seasons at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, Wisc., at the D-2 level, which would be the equivalent of a 3A program in Illinois.

After a 3-21 season, the team improved to 12-12 the next year. In his third season, Alexander was named the Coach of the Year for the Fox River Classic Conference when the team posted an 18-11 record.

He departed when his fiancé took a job coaching women’s basketball staff at Eastern Illinois University. He took a job as a truant officer for the Charleston school district and coached the CHS junior varsity boys team.

“I formed some incredible connections with the players from the JV and varsity and knew the potential they had even when some could not see it,” said Alexander. “I wanted to do my best to continue to help these young men turn around the Charleston boys basketball program into a program with a tradition of excellence.”

Returning vets

William Applegate483712.24.279
Caleb Oakley43.334.59.63.169

Excellence had been hard to find for about a decade.

After a 14-12 season in 2012-13, the Trojans had suffered eight consecutive losing seasons, which included a combined a paltry 62 wins during that time.

That changed last year when the team went 18-11 overall and 8-4 to finish second in the Apollo during Cody Drone’s first season. Drone left to take a teaching position in Shelbyville at the end of the school year.

Alexander says several athletes who did not come out last year have decided to come out to give this a solid group of JV and varsity rosters. 

“I am very pleased with the team we have this season,” said Alexander. “We have two strong returners from varsity last season along with the very hard-working crew I had on my JV team last season. In addition, we’ve added several athletes from football/baseball that didn’t go out last year but wanted to this year. You can start to see a change that kids around town want to get into hoops again which is so awesome.”

The Trojans lost All-Apollo First Team forward Jacksen Braun from last year but do return All-Apollo Second Team senior William Applegate. Also back is the team’s leading shooting guard senior Caleb Oakley. Both players were starters last season and will look to lead the team again. 

“Will has some incredible athleticism that plays a large role in his attacks at and finishing at the rim,” said Alexander. “His outside shooting and from the free-throw stripe were ones we relied on last year and this year. Has a very good opportunity to battle and prove to everyone he is capable of being a First-Team All-Apollo guard. Caleb has a fantastic offensive and defensive awareness/feel for the game. As a shooting guard last year, he will more than likely take on our starting point guard role where he will facilitate our team greatly as a multi-threat PG from in and out while creating for teammates.  Has a very good opportunity to battle and prove to everyone he is capable of being a 1st team all Apollo guard.”

Also gone are Grady Smitley, Kendall Pankey, and Jackson Burgess. While the guards appear to be locked in, the team will look to the bench and the pool of players out to take up the post positions. One player that is sticking out is first-year player senior James Hess. 

“The kid is an absolute relentless rebounder and has proven thus far to be a strong man in the middle for us,” said Alexander. “He has shown some promising glimpses of being a stretch big for us as he emerges into his senior season.”

The Trojans will have plenty of time to sort out the rest of the roster. The Paris High School Thanksgiving Tournament was canceled. For now, the team’s first game will not be until Dec. 1 unless the team can find a tournament to play. 

For now, Alexander is worried about the present and helping the team remember that playing basketball is a privilege. 

“It was an incredible season to be a part of last year, moving forward we plan on continuing that excellence from the season prior while always remembering that basketball is a privilege to be playing,” said Alexander. “ I once heard from Monty Williams, “Basketball is a get to, not a got to.” This season, I don’t want my guys to take a second for granted on that court and end knowing that they bought into something special.”

The assistant coaches are Colin McInerney (JV Head Coach & Varsity Assistant), Andy Merzman (Varsity Assistant), and DeVondre Gaston (Frosh/Soph Head Coach & Varsity Assistant) 

0Paris Coopwood6-0, 150Jr
1Cam Dunklin6-0, 125Sr
2Alex Kuykendall5-6, 110So
3Brett Spour6-0, 185Jr
5Luke Bonnstetter6-0, 150So
10Josh Sipes6-0, 165Sr
11Will Applegate6-2, 180Sr
15Andrew Kuykendall5-6, 115So
20Langdon King6-3, 175Jr
21Tyler Oakley6-3, 185Fr
24James Hess6-5, 185Sr
25Gavril Amartey6-0, 130So
33Caleb Oakley6-2, 180Sr