ROCK ISLAND — When the current senior members of the Rock Island basketball team entered high school four years ago, coach Thom Sigel's eyes were opened.
What he saw was a whole bunch of size and what he hoped would be a bunch of guys who would dominate in the paint for the Rocks.
As freshmen and sophomores, they handled things very well at the lower levels. However, outside of Taurean Holtam, they were not putting up the numbers at the varsity level that some might have hoped.
That seems to have changed now. That is in most part by huge steps from 6-foot-8 Solomon Gustafson and the big improvement from Holtam.
Holtam is second on the team, averaging 12.2 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game. Gustafson is averaging 9.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
However, it is what they have done in the Rocks' current six-game winning streak that is even more eye-opening. The pair have combined for 27.2 points, 14.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.3 blocks per game in the streak.
"I think where it starts is the growth those two, as well as Malachi (Key) and Andrew (McDuffy), have show in growth in size and in their game," Sigel said. "Solomon is coming into his own with his work on the block and doing things with confidence in the paint.
"Taurean could score, but now he is now establishing himself in the paint and that's where he is at his best. The real key is their work on spacing and finding open guys when they are inside. That's a feel and comfort thing and I see it better every game."
Now, as Sigel points out, the next step for the Rocks' inside guys is learning how to handle it when teams begin to defend Gustafson and Holtam with players coming in from all sides.
Holtam believes the addition of offense in the lane just makes the Rocks so much more dangerous on offense.
"It is important to be able to play inside and outside," he said. "You don't see a lot of high school teams who are good with the post game and the perimeter. It is usually one or the other and I like our combination."
You have free articles remaining.
Gustafson isn't sure how many times from his freshman year to the start of this year he has heard from Sigel or another RI coach tell him to get aggressive inside and use his size.
These days, he is finally doing just that. And he is doing with authority. Gustafson probably has 20 or more powerful dunks out of his 56 made baskets.
"It really starts with having guards who are finding me and Taurean, and then getting the ball to us," Gustafson said. "Those passes are not only getting us shots, they are opening up the guards for us to kick the ball back out to guys who can make shots."
Added Holtam, "We have noticed that when a guard gets the ball to us with a pass or off a drive, it opens everything up. I'm getting a feeling about finding Solomon or him finding me when we are down low, and we are confident when we kick it back out to the guards."
Holtam took 54 3-pointers last season, ut is on a pace for 30 or fewer this season. That's because he is more comfortable doing his work around the rim. Gustafson is also more comfortable with his offensive play.
"We do our business on tip-ins and scoring in the post," Gustafson said. "Taurean is really good at getting the ball inside and getting and-1s."
Said Holtam, "I like shooting 3s, but when we can dominate inside why not do that?"
Both players and their coach think these Rocks are nowhere near where they can be by the end of the season.
Holtam missed three games early in the season and junior guards Jordan Rice and Colton Sigel are currently out with ankle injuries. The usual starting lineup has had very few nights when all five were on the court to start a game.
"A big thing we have found is guys stepping in off the bench to accept roles and be ready," Sigel said. "We have great versatility. We've used Andrew to handle the ball and to play in the post. Eli (Reese) and Devin (Swift) stepped in recently and have been good. Romeo (Metcalf) had shown some great signs."
It adds to the confidence.
"You are never going to have everyone feeling 100 percent, injuries happen," Holtam said. "We have guys who are ready when their time comes."
Added Gustafson, "We have built great depth and it will only make us better when we get everyone back."
Jeff Wendland is lead prep sports writer for the Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @jaydub_DA