By Jake Thompson and Justin Whitaker
BROWNSBURG — As the boys’ basketball season opens here in Hendricks County, questions abound for each squad. Three of seven teams have new head coaches to begin the season and the others face some sort of transition period to begin the year with the loss of key players from last season. Whoever can adjust the quickest to their new situation has the best chance of a successful season.
Avon won its third consecutive Hendricks County title last season and the Orioles have their sights set on that crown and more to begin the 2012 season. Avon coach Jason Young says he understands the rough road ahead for any county team trying to take a fourth straight title with the level of competition being what it is year in and year out.
“We need to improve every single day we take the court,” Young said. “We hope to defend our county championship and compete for a conference and sectional championship. We lost a lot of guys who played big parts in our prior county championship runs. I feel the county is going to be very strong this year and anticipate all six schools having good seasons.”
Avon lost several key members of its team after last season and the production will certainly be hard to replace. However, a strong senior class should help make the transition easier.
“We hope the senior leadership of Aaron Bode and Jordan Rhoades and fellow senior Justin Hubbard can lead us to another championship,” Young said. “Bode, Rhoades, and Hubbard have been great leaders for us so far. We’ll need them to continue to lead us in a positive direction and they’re going to have to play consistent basketball at both ends of the floor.”
Several Orioles received valuable experience last year and look to be counted on as Avon begins the year.
“Junior Conner Funkhouser was our sixth man last season and could have a big year for us,” Young said. “Fellow juniors Carter VanWanzeele, Levi Bailey, Sam Bloom, Cress Kimbrough, and Ritchie Steinmetz will play a big part for us this season.”
Along with those players, Young pointed to sophomores Jordan Kleyn and Logan White as a pair that have “had promising starts, along with freshman Brandon Peters.”
With only three seniors and the majority of the team being juniors mixed with underclassmen, the Orioles must come together rapidly if they want to have a successful season.
“We don’t return a lot of varsity experience,” Young said. “We’re going to have to grow up quickly, especially with the quality of teams we play early in the season. It’ll take a team effort every night from everyone for us to be successful.”
Avon hopes to get help in its guard play in mid-December with the return of junior guard David Griffith, who’s trying to come back from an ankle injury suffered during the football season.
After residing in the Kokomo area for the past 15 seasons, first-year Plainfield basketball coach Andy Weaver said he’s “looking forward to the upcoming season and being a part of this area.”
The Quakers made a coaching change after three consecutive losing seasons and a 1-20 record last year. Weaver, who is preparing for his 19th season as a varsity boys’ basketball coach, didn’t mince words on what he expects to achieve during his tenure.
“Our team goal is to be a championship team,” he said. “We have two opportunities in the regular season with the Mid-State Conference and the Hendricks County tourney and obviously the postseason with the state tournament. We’re very early in our program with me being new, so obviously getting better every week is crucial to our success.”
Weavers’ success came at Western High School where he guided his teams to sectional championships in 2003, ‘04, ‘06, ‘07, ‘11, and ‘12, with a regional title coming in 2004.
Most any transition has its drawbacks and comes with a feeling out period between the players and coach, but so far, everything seems to be on track for everyone.
After being approved in late April, Weaver has been able to spend some quality time getting to know the players and seeing them play in five shootouts during the summer months.
“The adjustment period has went pretty well,” Weaver said. “I’m a big believer that players must know what their role is for the team to be successful.”
Seniors Luke Jones, Josh Courtney, Tim Baute, Jake Jay, and Jon Aldridge can make a difference for the Quakers this season. The five seniors will attempt to have the first winning season in their campaigns as Quakers.
Jones is Plainfield’s leading returning scorer, averaging 12.3 ppg last season, with Courtney at 8.1 ppg, and Baute at 6.8 ppg. Baute and Courtney are the Quakers’ best returning rebounders and Jones is the leading assist man from last year.
“Aldridge is a very responsible young man ... a guy that’s a good vocal leader for our team,” Weaver said. “All five of our seniors must provide leadership. Some are more quiet in nature and must lead by example.”
Taking the floor with the ability to make an immediate impact for Plainfield is 6-foot-5 junior Bobby Jensen, who was injured last season.
Weaver also pointed to sophomore Will Williams as a “guard that has the skill set, athleticism, and strength to be successful.”
Weaver assembled a staff that includes Kevin Koontz, Derek Dant, and Joe Hoffman. Koontz spent the last eight seasons as an assistant at Bloomington North and Dant is the P.E. teacher at Plainfield. Hoffman, a health teach at Plainfield, will take control of the freshmen team.
With his staff, a new job, and new players, Weaver says he knows what the key to his season will come down to.
“Our success will depend on the team getting confidence and staying confident,” Weaver said. “Our guys have to believe that they can play with the teams in our conference, county, and sectional.”
After four consecutive losing seasons, Cascade righted the ship last year and finished with a 14-7 record, winning a stretch of 10-of-13 games in the middle of its season before falling to South Putnam in the sectional opener.
After the graduation loss of two top players in J.T. Thomas and Jeffrey Hopper, the Cadets must find new scoring threats.
“We lost three important seniors who contributed nearly 53 points a game,” Cascade coach Chris Dubois said. “We must understand our roles and play more as a team on defense and offense.”
Helping define those roles and shape the team into Dubois’ mold are seniors Eric Bobadilla, Jake Canaday, and Daljot Bajwa.
“(They) will be asked to contribute in a lot of different ways,” Dubois said. “Jake and Daljot will bring strength in the front court, while Eric brings a stable ball handler in the back court.”
Returning this season as a senior is Colin Smith, the Cadets’ quarterback, who has sat out a couple of years, but returned to help the squad.
“He’s led the football team the last couple of years ... his athleticism will be much needed,” Dubois said.
Dubois also pointed out junior Hayden Suter as a player that will “need to be able to put the ball in the hole.”
Also expected to make an impact are sophomore Schuyler Hart and freshman Zach Butler.
“Both players have worked extremely hard and performed well in practice,” Dubois said.
For Dubois, Cascade’s success really boils down to the team accomplishing basic fundamentals so the Cadets can build upon those throughout the year.
“Roles must be learned and achieved,” he said. “As long as a coach can see the team take positive steps in each game, then good things will happen. If we can grasp simple team basketball concepts, then the wins and championships will come.
“The Cadets need to find seven to nine players that are willing to commit to the ideas and beliefs of the team philosophy. These nine players will need to know their roles to benefit the team.”
The Cadets also see the addition of assistant coach Justin Spears, new junior varsity coach Carl Teague, and junior varsity assistant Mason Eduland.
Freshmen Mattie Sappenfield, Angela Couch, and Destany Humpress are the Cadets’ new managers and will run all of the behind the scenes action for Cascade.
With its sixth coaching change in the last 10 years, Bethesda Christian welcomes Justin Cook to the Patriots’ ranks. Cook’s transition should be eased by one factor the Patriots have going for them.
“We have a strong core of players returning from last year,” Cook said. “Malik Roper, Deonte Gates, Patrick McCurry, Alex Vescovi, and Johnny Mlagan all contributed last year, and will be key players again this year. “
Roper averaged nearly 12 ppg and Gates added 8 ppg.
Also aiding the changeover is Cook’s familiarity with the team.
“I have incredible relationships with this group of guys,” he said. “I have run their summer program the last two (years) and spent considerable time with all of them. That strength of relationship has allowed for a smooth coaching transition and has enabled us to make lots of progress right off the bat. Our seniors have done a great job of adapting to new drills and my expectations of them as well, which is rubbing off on everyone in the program.”
Cook went on to explain that the team must work together to achieve their goals.
“Our success will ride largely on our mental toughness and selflessness,” he said. “If we can establish ourselves as a strong-minded team where each guy is working his tail off for his teammates, we will be in a position to have a great season. Selfishness and a lack of discipline will always kill a team, and our guys have battled and shown tremendous growth in these areas already.”
Helping the Patriots in those aforementioned areas are a group of seven seniors, including Gates, Bethesda’s point guard and captain.
“(Gates) has set the bar very high through his dedication and ability to motivate, unify, and communicate with the rest of our team,” Cook said. “The other seniors have embraced their role as leaders and trend-setters for our program.
“Our seniors have just been terrific up to this point. They have bought into our message of mental toughness and selfless play. Their buy-in is already paying dividends as they’re learning to have fun by working hard and pushing each other.”
Bethesda has adopted an acronym to define its season and Cook hopes it will properly motivate the team for the entire year.
“Our goals for the year center around the acronym WASH, which stands for ‘What’s At Stake Here?’” Cook said. “Our goal is that our team would emphatically direct people to the Glory of God whenever we take the court through tough-minded and aggressive play. We’re going to give an account to God for the talents he gave us, so we must demand exceptionally high standards from ourselves in order to represent Him well. From a more physical standpoint, our guys have set a sectional championship as a primary goal of theirs.”
New Brownsburg boys’ basketball coach and former Butler standout Ronald Nored will guide the purple and white Bulldogs in the 2012 season.
Not even one year removed from the college basketball season, Nored is hoping to bring his ferocious defensive style of play to Brownsburg.
The graduation coach for the freshmen at BHS sees a lot of upside and likes what he has on his roster.
“We have a lot of guys who do a lot of really good things well,” Nored said. “Hopefully we can find that balance of those different guys and different combinations.”
Sophomore K.J. Walton is expected to pace the Bulldogs after averaging 7 points and 53 percent from the field last year.
Nored said that Walton has gotten early looks from Indiana, Illinois, Xavier, Stanford, and Providence. With that recognition comes added responsibility this season for Walton.
“He’s going to have a large role for us, he’s going to have to,” Nored said. “He had a really good AAU season and a lot of guys have shown some interest in him. He’s going to have to be good for us, no question.”
Other key players for Brownsburg include juniors Xavier Ringo, Sam Comer, Trevor Lucas, and Kyle Thompson.
Nored said he likes his team’s youth and thinks that they will be able to grow collectively. The early unknown is how deep the rotation will be and who will be playing with who.
“We’re still trying to figure out who is going to be on the floor when,” the 22-year-old coach said. “We’re mixing up different lineups in practice when we are going live to figure out what combination of guys play well. When they sub out, who can come in next and contribute.”
Helping ease this transition has been an experienced, well-versed coaching staff. Gordon Hayward Sr., Bronson Lickliter (head coach at Randolph Southern 2010-12), and 36-year Marian University coach and recent retiree John Grimes are a part of Nored’s coaching staff.
“Having that kind of experience to help me in this process and this journey has been really good,” he said. “The basketball part of it, I love. I love being on the floor, I love being with the guys. I like that can we spend time teaching and that kind of stuff. That’s where like I feel I get the most out of myself is in that time.”
Coming off a disappointing 8-14 season, the Tri-West Bruins are ready to bounce back in 2012.
The Bruins will be doing so with what coach Adam Bontreger says is his deepest team in his four years at Tri-West.
“On a given night I feel comfortable being able to play 12 guys and not blink an eye at it, which doesn’t happen very often,” he said.
Bontreger went 17-6 in both of his first two seasons and believes that record is possible with his core coming back. Tri-West returns five of its top six scorers from last year with leading scorer Sam Koelling’s average of 10 points per game and 52 percent shooting coming back.
Koelling and fellow senior Mitch Alexander will be the team’s two captains this season.
The Bruins also return two key sophomores in Jake Hendershot and Trevor Waite. Each combined for 14.6 points per game and received a heavy amount of playing time in 2011.
“Both of those guys went through trial by fire last year and in some ways were forced to be uncomfortable and were challenged,” Bontreger said. “The challenges we went through last year as a team and for those guys individually, I think those are definitely going to pay off with this year’s team.”
Bontreger has his best group of athletes during his four years at Tri-West. The majority of the major players for the basketball team were also stars during a fall sport.
Members of the Bruins’ 7-4 football team included: Alexander, who combined for nine receiving and rushing touchdowns; Hendershot, who threw for 20 touchdowns and rushed for 10 more; and Nick Phelps, who caught seven touchdowns and had 544 yards receiving. Koelling (22 goals) and Waite were both all-Sagamore Conference first-team soccer selections and were a part of Bontreger and the school’s first sectional soccer title.
“I’m a firm believer that in order to have a good team you have to have athletes in general,” Bontreger said. “Our football program was extremely successful this last year. Any time our football team is good out here, it definitely spurs the other teams to be successful. And our soccer team was extremely good as well, we won our first sectional. Any time our athletes can learn how to win and are experiencing some winning, I just believe there’s going to be some natural carryover.”
Assisting the Bruins’ outlook for the 2012 basketball season is the depth that Bontreger is happy to have. Other notable players include Austin Musial, Austin Lynn, and Brant Gadberry, who Bontreger feels was the most improved player from last season.
“We are extremely deep and I’m not so sure that our starting five wouldn’t get beat by guys on our bench on a given day,” he said.
Coaches will keep a plus/minus chart this season to try and gauge who plays best with who and to distribute playing time. A tough, but good problem for Bontreger.
“We’ve got a lot of firepower and it’s definitely going to be a fun team to coach,” he said. “The kids’ attitudes have been outstanding. Their work ethic has been better than any group I’ve had so far this early in the season.”
After finishing as runner-ups in the county and sectional finals last year, Danville coach Brian Barber and the rest of the Warriors are looking a victory this year.
Barber has all juniors and seniors on the varsity squad, including seven seniors, the most in his tenure at Danville.
“We have a lot of guys with a lot of experience and they got a lot of opportunities last year by playing in big games,” Barber said.
After graduating two seniors from the 8-11 2011 team, Barber believes last year’s experience will help the 2012 team.
“You can just tell everyone is a year older, more mature,” he said. “Last year some guys were just happy being a varsity player. This year our guys obviously have a lot more goals they want to accomplish.”
Expecting to lead the way for the Warriors are seniors Avery Motes and Ian Asher.
Motes averaged a team-high 16.7 points per game and 41 percent shooting from beyond the arc last season. He also led the Warriors in total points scored, despite missing five games with an ankle injury.
“He’s just a hard-nosed, old school kind of guy,” Barber said of Motes. “He works really hard on all aspects of his game and has just a great attitude about himself.”
Barber describes Motes as a do-it-all type of player.
“He can do a lot of things for us,” Barber said. “He can drive to basket, he can hit the open guy, he can shoot the three, and he’s gained a lot of strength this offseason. He just has a great presence about him on the floor.”
Asher is a transfer from Covenant Christian who averaged a second-best 13.8 points per game for the Warriors last season. Barber believes he’s a versatile player who can help take some of opposing teams’ focus off of Motes.
“He’s another playmaker,” Barber said. “He can drive to the basket, he can shoot the ball, he’s very athletic and very versatile. He can play the point for us and a lot of time he probably is going to be our point guard on the floor. He just has a very good savvy about himself.”
Other Danville players contributing this season include Tyler Ross, Jackson Stone, co-captain C.J. Just, Scott Amor, and B’Ster Detty. Amor and Detty were standout football players from the Warriors’ 7-4 Sagamore Conference champion football team.
Junior D.J. Shipley returns after suffering two back-to-back ACL injuries in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Junior Brock Stevens, who averaged 8.9 points per game last season, tore his ACL during the summer and will miss the season.
On top of the depth, Danville has another strength that you cannot teach — height. The Warriors have seven players 6-foot-2 and taller, including 6-4 Mitchell Collier, 6-4 Ross, and 6-7 Stone.
“We have a lot of guys that can play,” Barber said. “We’re going to play pressure defense and get after it and try and make defense our best offense.”