First-year Verona boys basketball coach Reggie Patterson has faced a lot of challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic in his inaugural season as he tries to rebuild the Wildcat program.

Patterson, who was an assistant coach for the girls’ basketball team last year, is the fourth boys’ basketball head coach in the past three years. He told the Press he wants to mold his team into a style of basketball where the hallmarks are hustle and holding players accountable.

“I want them to be free to play the game and not wait for me to call a play,” he said. “I tell the guys all the time to always look for their shot. I want them to be all-in even if they don’t score.”

Verona returns nine players from a team that went 4-19 overall and finished ninth out of 10 teams in the Big Eight Conference with a 4-14 record.

“I’m adjusting to them and they have all bought in and are getting used to me,” he said.

Based on early practices, Patterson said the players he expects to lead the Wildcats this year are seniors Bennett Sherry, Cam McCorkle and Jacob Kisting, along with juniors Jonah Anderson, Kolson Roddick Karson Mitchell.

“That role they have is no secret,” Patterson said of the six players. “I was going in to just give it to them. They earned it. I think they are all ready for the challenge.”

Roddick is back after averaging 6.8 points per game last season. He is the leading 3-point shooter returning at 35.7% (20 of 56).

“He has a nice shot and we want him to be looking for his shot,” Patterson said.

Kisting (5.9, 2.5 rebounds per game), Sherry (5.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg) and Anderson (3.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg) each saw extended minutes last year. McCorkle played in just eight games at point guard last year because of injury, but averaged 2.8 points per game.

Other players back with experience are seniors James Rae and Jake Poller, junior Cole Jannusch and sophomore guard Gavin Farrell.

The Wildcats have some size with Sherry, Kisting and Jannusch all 6-5.

“Our toughness is something we need to improve on,” Patterson said. “Coach Adam Steiner has been working with our forwards on how to be strong down low guarding the post.”

Patterson said the biggest challenge will be adapting to the restrictions of no contact for practices. The team can’t scrimmage or have contact during practice at VAHS because of the Public Health Madison and Dane County order limiting gatherings indoors to 10 people or less and outdoors to 25 or less.

Verona has a nine-game season and the Wildcats will play all games on the road. Verona will open the season at Kingdom Prep Lutheran on Thursday, Jan. 14, in Wauwatosa.

“I have told this story before, but the couple times I got nervous was as a walk-on when I ran out of the tunnel at Mississippi State with my family in the stands,” he said. “I had butterflies that time, but then I had to play. I will have some butterflies on Thursday, but then I have a job to do. When it’s time for tip off, I respect everyone and I don’t fear anyone.”

The Wildcats will then play Hudson on Saturday, Jan. 16, at the La Crosse Civic Center as part of the 11th annual Midwest Players Classic that features eight games.