WAVERLY — When Max Smith Drahos arrived at Wartburg, he knew there would be a significant adjustment.
The former Cedar Rapids Prairie third team all-state selection and current Knights men’s basketball sophomore guard hatched a plan to make an immediate impact.
“In high school, that was one of my biggest strengths,” Smith Drahos said. “I knew going from high school to college was going to be an adjustment offensively. Everyone is bigger and stronger. I might not be able to score it as easy as I did in high school, but I knew that if I work hard on defense, I’d always be able to do that and they’d always give me playing time to help the team.”
As a freshman, Smith Drahos was the first guard off the bench for a Wartburg team that finished 17-10 and was the fifth seed in the American Rivers Conference tournament. This year, he has started all 14 games and is first on the team in steals (29) and second in minutes played (392).
“We knew coming out of high school that we were fortunate to have a quality player on both ends of the floor,” Wartburg Coach Dick Peth said. “I think we noticed how Max could score both inside and outside in high school and he was a hard worker on the defensive end, but along with that he just has taken his game to a completely different level. His intensity is awesome on the defensive end. Offensively, he’ll do whatever it takes to be successful.”
This season, Smith Drahos’ offensive game has made marked improvement. He is third on the team with 11.7 points per game, highlighted by a 24-point effort on Jan. 5 in a 102-85 victory at Central. A 10-point performance on Wednesday against Luther gave Smith Drahos four double-digit scoring games in a row and eight in his last 10 games.
“It is really great for us to see the progress from an offensive perspective,” Peth said.
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Wartburg (9-5, 3-2 A-R-C) has been without Cedar Rapids Xavier graduate Ryan Stulken (knee) since the fifth game of the season. Smith Drahos has been able to lean on the experience of senior starters Jaran Sabus (team-high 23.1 points per game), Cam Kickbush and former Dyersville Beckman player Josh Gehling.
“They’ve been huge,” Smith Drahos said. “This year and last year, too, practicing alongside and against them has been great for me since they are veterans and they know what it takes to be successful at this level.”
After a rough stretch in which Wartburg dropped four of five games, the Knights have rebounded with wins in four of their last five.
Saturday, Wartburg will visit No. 1-ranked Nebraska Wesleyan, the defending Division III national champion.
“It is one we’ve had circled on our calendar for a while now,” Smith Drahos said. “Whenever you are playing the defending champs, you want to take them down. It will be a tough game, but going on the road will be good for us, win or lose. We expect to win, but no matter what happens it will be a good teaching moment for down the road.”
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