Chad Helle's feelings as he enters his sophomore season as head coach of the Iowa Central men heavily involves the word comfort.
Helle, who replaced long-time Triton leader Dennis Pilcher after several seasons sitting next to him on the bench, also has the added benefit of three returning players and another transfer to help settle any early-season nerves of a roster once again dominated by freshmen.
"I'd say the biggest thing is comfortability," Helle said. "More confidence in teaching, coaching, preparing guys and all those things that differ from being an assistant to a head coach.
"I'm also more confident in myself and how I want things done. But it does help to have kids that want to learn and be better."
Abdelnassar handled much of the point guard duties last year, averaging just under seven points per game with 87 assists, 93 rebounds and 31 steals. He will shift to more of an off-guard this winter to take advantage of his long-distance shooting and ability to drive to the basket.
"He's relaxed a little bit," Helle said. "Ayris understands he doesn't have to shoulder the load as much as he did last year. That has also really helped his confidence grow."
Keck is someone Helle is planning to really build around, saying "he just has it figured out."
"The biggest difference in freshmen to sophomores is playing basketball and not just running up and down the court," Helle said. "Javonte knows how to play basketball and knows what we want and how to do it. I really can't say enough about the growths he has made."
Keck, a native of Sioux City, averaged almost 10 points per game a year ago, shooting 42 percent from the field, 37 percent from the 3-point line and 74 percent at the free throw stripe. He also had 152 rebounds, 24 blocks, 23 assists and 19 steals.
Deng, a graduate of Storm Lake, is the unquestioned "pulse" of the team. He finished his first season with the Tritons with 91 points, 45 rebounds, 10 assists and 23 steals, but brings so much more to the program.
"Cham leads the team on the court, in the locker room and everywhere else," Helle said. "People respect him. He has a voice and has done a phenomenal job keeping us as one. He works hard every single day, always has a great attitude and that carries over from the locker room to the court.
"The freshmen see him as sort of a mother hen. He really has a pulse on the entire roster and knows what is good for all of them. Cham is a natural-born leader and such a positive guy."
Dibiamaka, originally from Australia, brings experience after playing a handful of games last year.
"It's nice because he's like Ayris, Javonte and Cham in that you don't have to teach him the little things," Helle said. "He's been around, has experience and knows what to do."
Of the 10 freshmen on the roster, PJ Ngambi, Jordan Majeed and Jaxon Smith as early favorites to garner playing time, adding "we've got 11 guys I feel comfortable playing, and have been playing in scrimmages. They can keep the team moving forward and I am confident those guys can do something for us."
-By Dana Becker
IOWA CENTRAL MEN'S BASKETBALL
PJ Ngambi, Omaha; Zavian Ricks, Cincinnati; Jordan Majeed, Beloit, Wis.; Cornell Richardson, Brooklyn Park, Minn.; Jaxon Smith, Ankeny; Irakoze Gilbert, Houston; Jett Pinneo, Rising City, Neb.; Jayden Stephens, Alpharetta, Ga.; Mahad Faisel, Chaska, Minn.; Jayson Brooks, Akron, Oh.
Jan. 20 - NIACC; 23 - Iowa Western; 27 - at Ellsworth; 30 - at Southwestern.
Feb. 3 - DMACC; 6 - at Marshalltown; 10 - Northeast; 13 - at Indian Hills; 17 - at NIACC; 20 - Marshalltown; 23 - at Iowa Western; 27 - at Kirkwood.
March 3 - Iowa Lakes; 6 - at Southeastern; 10 - Ellsworth; 13 - Southwestern; 17 - at Northeast; 20 - Indian Hills; 24 - at Iowa Lakes; 27 - Southeastern; 31 - at DMACC.
April 3 - Kirkwood.