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Boys Basketball: Restoring the roar at RCW

RENVILLE -- When he took over as the head boys basketball coach at Renville County West, Matt Huhnerkoch was approached by a youngster by the name of Justin Schrupp.

RCW's Justin Schrupp celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer in the first half against Dawson-Boyd on Dec. 11, 2018. Joe Brown / Tribune
RCW's Justin Schrupp celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer in the first half against Dawson-Boyd on Dec. 11, 2018. Joe Brown / Tribune

RENVILLE - When he took over as the head boys basketball coach at Renville County West, Matt Huhnerkoch was approached by a youngster by the name of Justin Schrupp.

"He came to me right away and asked if he could still be the student manager," said Huhnerkoch, who took over for Rich Schrupp, Justin's dad. "He was only a fifth-grader, I think and he was a timid little kid. It was even a struggle for him to ask to be manager. He's been with me for a long time."

Huhnerkoch would soon discover that Justin's shyness evaporated when he walked on the basketball court.

"He's a timid kid but when you get him in the gym, he's a different player," Huhnerkoch said. "When we were short on players, we'd say, 'Hey Justin, jump in.' You couldn't tell he was a fifth- or sixth-grader. He would hang with varsity kids, no problem. We knew from the start he had something special."

Being in the gym with his dad as coach and as a student manager ignited Justin's love of basketball. And now, he's leading the Jaguars to success the school hasn't seen in a decade.

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From 2009-10 to 2016-17, RCW averaged just 4.6 wins per year.

But in 2017-18, the Jaguars were 15-12, earning double-digit wins for the first time since 2004-05. And this winter, RCW leads the Camden Conference North with an 8-3 conference mark and 11-5 overall record.

"Everyone's confidence is up," Justin said. "The more and more we win, the more loose we play."

And the towns of Danube, Renville and Sacred Heart are taking notice.

"It's really fun. You see the town just come together. They love their basketball," Justin said. "At each home game, there's more and more people showing up."

Featured as the Jaguars' top weapon this season, Justin has become one of the Camden Conference's top players with 28.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists through 16 games. Justin has scored 30-plus points in eight contests, including back-to-back 35-point games against Lakeview and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton.

"He pretty much gets us 30 points every night, and we need him to do it," Huhnerkoch said. "The way he's playing now, putting up 30 points with teams focusing on him, that's fun to watch."

With center Nathan Serbus leading the RCW offense in 2017-18, Huhnerkoch wanted to play up-tempo this winter with Justin helming a new offense that Huhnerkoch said, "we haven't played like that around here in a long time."

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It didn't take the team long to buy into the new system.

"Most of us weren't in summer baseball so we played together a ton more," Justin said. "We played together a ton more and that helped us get ready for the season compared to past years."

Justin continued, "I just kind of worked on my all-around game. Tried to get more of an inside game. We had Serbus on the inside so I really didn't have to do much on the inside before. So, the offseason was focusing more on my mid-range and inside game instead of just outside."

RCW has won six straight games and no one has found an answer to stop Justin, with his lowest point total being 19 points in a win against Red Rock Central on Jan. 15.

"Teams are sending double-teams at him or boxes-and-one. And it doesn't matter; He's still getting his," Huhnerkoch said. "And when he doesn't have a shot, he's putting his teammates in great position as well. He has great vision to get the ball to the other guys."

Earlier this year, Schrupp became the first player at RCW to score 1,000 career points since Nathan Dahlager in 1994 (for Belview-Danube-Renville-Sacred Heart). But more important, the wins continue to climb for the program Justin has known since his bashful childhood.

"It's awesome just to see where we've been as a program to now," Justin said. "And I think the future's bright."

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