Archive for November 23, 2011

HOWARD COUNTY BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEWS

D.J. Balentine is Kokomo's Indiana All-Star candidate and looks to return the Kats to Conseco Fieldhouse next March.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO WILDKATS

A BLUE BANNER GOAL FOR DEFENDING STATE RUNNERS-UP

Anyone who watched the Kokomo boys basketball team lose to Bloomington South in the IHSAA Class 4A state championship game last March knows the 2011-2012 Kat team has one goal this year – WIN! With Indiana All-Star candidate and Evansville signee D.J. Balentine leading the way, the Kats want to hoist a blue state championship banner next to the red runners-up banner that recently found a place in the Memorial Gym rafters and erase the memory of a poor shooting performance in the finals.

“We had a great season last year,” said Kokomo Head coach Brian McCauley of the North Central Conference winning 25-3 campaign. “It was just an outstanding and fun year with great memories. I am just proud of what they accomplished. Obviously D.J. Balentine is a great player – there are a lot of expectations on him as one of the better players to ever play at Kokomo. He understands the game. He will be a marked man this year, as he was last year. He has to be mentally tough.”

But McCauley cautioned that while having big aspirations are good, this team will need to work hard to get back to Conseco Fieldhouse. The team will have a big red target on its back this year.

“High expectations are a great thing; they get the community excited and get the players excited and give you energy,” said McCauley. “But at the same time, expectations can be dangerous. If you focus on what’s down the road then you miss the moment and that is when you won’t hit your full potential. So the thing I constantly tell our guys is to get better in practice today. Then tomorrow we will take another step forward. Past success doesn’t equal future success. What’s in the past is gone and you have to learn from it, whether it is positive or negative.”

Joining Balentine on the floor will be three players who contributed heavily to the Kats title run: senior Armon Bridgeforth, junior LaBradford Sebree and sophomore Taylor Persons. Senior Jalen Tinder saw time off the bench last year and should contribute this year. McCauley said he will rely on a strong senior class this year.

“We have six outstanding seniors and we need these guys to be great leaders both on and off the court this year,” said McCauley. “Jalen Tinder gave us great minutes off the bench last year and will help this year. Tony Moses did a good job at the JV level last year and made great strides. Armon Bridgeforth is obviously a tremendous athlete and is one of the best athletes to ever come out of Kokomo. Jaylin Waldon is another JV player who improved and has a lot of athleticism. And Christian Arnett did not play last year but has returned and we are glad he is here.”

And now, let the Kat march to Conseco begin.

EASTERN COMETS

YOUNG COMETS LOOK TO PRICE, MYERS FOR EXPERIENCE

A new face will be roaming the Eastern Comets varsity bench this season, but it isn’t necessarily a new face to the Eastern Comets. 2001 Eastern graduate Kyle Bedwell moves up from the junior varsity team to take over for retired coach Duane Keisling – and he takes over a team with two strong performers but otherwise not much experience returning to the floor.

“It is good to be with Eastern,” said Bedwell. “I am really looking forward to what this team can do. It was fun working with (Keisling) and picking his brain after a game.”

Leading the Comets will be 6-foot-5 three-sport standout Josiah Price, a Michigan state football recruit. Last year, Price averaged nearly 19 points per game and nine rebounds in an all-conference season. He will be joined by returning point guard K.J. Myers (3.6 ppg and 1.7 assists per game), a junior who brought the ball up the court for a majority of his sophomore season.

“We lost five seniors last year, and that will be hard to replace,” said Bedwell. “Josiah Price will be a strength for us. Unfortunately every team knows that and they will try and take our strength away. Hopefully Michael Haynes, another senior, will reap some of the benefits of that – as will Josiah Marx (2.4 ppg).

“And we have our point guard up top in K.J. Myers returning. He started two-thirds of the season last year as a sophomore and that varsity time, well, there is no replacement for it and that will help us this season. He gained so much experience through that and has really stepped up as a leader for us through the summer and through the fall as we are getting ready for the season.”

The first-year coach said a lack of varsity experience will be a major hurdle to overcome this year, but he has a solid core of players ready to fill those roles.

“The big thing is a lack of varsity minutes, but we have kids ready to step in at almost every position,” said Bedwell. “Ball handling is a big concern. Myers does such a great job, but it takes more than one person to bring the ball up the court. The other thing is depth. But I think we will grow.”

Sophomore Braden Gibson should see time in the backcourt with Myers, while senior Trae Herglund, juniors Grant Cole and Josh Keith, and sophomore Will Porter are prepared to take other roles with the Comets. Senior Micah Marx and junior Hayden Vint should also see varsity time.

“I have a good solid 10 kids, but we have a lack of varsity minutes,” said Bedwell. “The kids work hard, but we will have to do a lot of teaching.”

NORTHWESTERN TIGERS

DUBBELS LEADS STRONG SENIOR CLASS FOR TIGERS

Most coaches would love to have senior experience return to a team which saw progress a year ago. For Northwestern coach Jim Gish, that is exactly what he will get as nine seniors return for the Purple Tigers.

“With the exception of one, the kids we have coming back have been playing together since they were very young,” said Gish. “They know each other very well, and they tolerate each other very well. We had a wonderful summer. There are certain teams that you, as a coach, like being around – you enjoy spending time with them. I truly like spending time with these kids. They are fun, enjoyable, and they are going to have a lot success outside of basketball in life.”

Leading the senior-laden Tiger squad is 5-10 all-area point guard Kylan Dubbels, who tallied nearly 16 points per game, four assists and four rebounds per game a year ago.

“The mainstay for the last (three) years is Kylan Dubbels,” said Gish. “We are going to turn to him for a lot of leadership. He is stepping up and saying things and doing things because he knows this is their last go-around.”

Gish said three other seniors saw significant playing time last year, including another 5-10 guard in Tanner Thomas (10.7 ppg).

“Tanner Thomas had a nice shooting year for us,” said Gish. “Tanner, Kyle Hardwick and Jake Ridgeway played the inside game for us last year and did a good job for us. Ridgeway also did a nice job for us on the perimeter.”

Joining that Tiger four-some are fellow seniors David Alexander, Jordan Carpenter, Zack Gabriel, Cody Yeakel, and Dakota Eller.

“We are going to turn to them,” said Gish. “The other seniors got a lot of minutes at the JV and varsity level. Alexander is one of the better defenders I have ever coached and Gabriel is shooting the ball very well right now.”

Rounding out the squad is 6-3 junior forward Trenton Brazel (4.4 ppg) and 6-7 junior Chase Johnson.

“Trenton is a very unique player – he reminds me of a Cameron Richardson who played for us in the past,” said Gish. “He is a very versatile player and I look forward to seeing him get some miss-matches. There is no question he is the hardest working young man I have coached in 17 years of coaching. He puts the time in during the off-season. I have a son myself and I tell him he has to do what Trenton is doing to have success.”

With nine seniors and a solid junior class, this will be an exciting year for the Purple Pride.

TAYLOR TITANS 

FIRST COACHING CHANGE IN 20 YEARS AT TAYLOR

The Taylor sidelines will look vastly different this year. For the first time in 20 seasons, Jeff Fisher is not the head coach of the Titans after retiring in March. The void of filling the shoes of a coach with 186 career wins and the 2000 regional title will fall to rookie head coach Andy Lewman.

Lewman has been a teacher at Taylor Middle School while serving as assistant coach at his alma mater Delta High School. He also coached for one season at Anderson High School with recently retired head coach Ron Hecklinski.

“I was fortunate to work with Paul Keller for several years, and last year with Stan Daughterty,” said Lewman. “So, I have some experience on the bench and now look forward to getting my own program established.

“I think we have a really good group of young men who are willing to work hard,” said Lewman. “It is good getting to know them and it is good to see them improve. We just need a little time with them.”

Lewman inherited a Titan squad that lost a senior class that included all-area center Tyler Simmons and scorer Matt Brankle. Seniors Dale Ray Washington, Cameron Clark and Justin Wheeler will need to fill those holes and lead Taylor to success.

"Dale Ray is a great young man and he’s got some nice tools,” said Lewman. “He is extremely quick and strong and has characteristics on the floor you just can’t teach. And we will have Justin Wheeler, Cameron Clark and (junior) Drew Hansen who will form our core – we have some good returning players and have a good mixture of juniors and seniors. We just need to be consistent throughout the year.”

Lewman said he takes each team and determines what style he will coach – this year will focus on quickness.

“We should have some very good team quickness,” he said. “It really depends on personality. It is high school and you have to take the hand you are dealt. We want to get after it defensively and push the ball and run some motion on offense. But we are going to take advantage of the quickness.”

Lewman said he has made the right choice in leaving the Delta program and taking over the Titans – and he appreciates the legacy left by Fisher.

“They have treated me well from day one,” he said. “It is just a good place to be and I am looking forward to getting down the road with the squad. Jeff did a great job, and my goal is to go to the next level. I hope I can build on what he has already established and form my own reputation as a coach.”

WESTERN PANTHERS

FIELDS, WARDEN LOOK TO LEAD RETURN TRIP TO ELITE EIGHT

With the departure of Jeff Fisher at Taylor, Western’s Andy Weaver is the new dean of boys basketball coaches in Howard County. And with five contributing players returning from last year’s Mid-Indiana Conference and Class 3A Frankfort Sectional champion team, he is ready to get back on the floor for another run.

“We had three senior starters last year, including the Larrick twins who were our leading scorers,” said Weaver, who is in his 15th season on the Panther sideline. “And two of those seniors were our leading scorers, so they were leaders on our team. Now we have to find the next leaders in our great group of returning guys.”

He said he had an eight-man rotation last year, so with the loss of three seniors, he has five solid players returning from last year’s Elite Eight squad. He points to a pair of returning guards as a solid starting point for the Panthers.

“Quin Fields (8.2 points per game) is an intelligent four-year player for us,” said Weaver of his returning 6-foot-2 point guard. “He has over 250 career assists and he makes good decisions. We are going to rely on his experience and his basketball intelligence. We are going to ask Quin to do more things this year, like rebounding the ball on both ends. We can play him at the point or off. He is a big asset for us.”

Sophomore guard Evan Warden (5.5 ppg) caught a lot of opponents by surprise last year. This year, he is an integral part of the Panther rotation.

“Evan is a competitor and Evan is a winner,” said Weaver. “He works hard and is stronger this year. There is no doubt he will be a marked man this year. He has put in a lot of extra shooting and extra ball-handling. He really came on in the regional for us. In our last 12 games, he shot over 40-percent from 3-point land.”

Joining Fields and Warden will be 6-4 senior forward John Capps (7.3 ppg), 6-4 senior forward Matt Orr (4.8 ppg), and 6-6 senior forward (4.2 ppg). Coming off the bench is 6-7 junior Ronnie Smith.

The veteran coach does not want to look into a crystal ball and make any predictions, but he says hard work pays off in the end - and that is something this team will need to pay attention to.

“I am a firm believer that it is a work in progress and if you really commit to working hard and staying together, that you will progress and get better every day,” said Weaver. “Is there potential there for this group? Absolutely! But basketball is not a sport where you can walk out on the floor and it automatically happens just because you have returning guys.”

COUGARS GO BIG TIME

IU Kokomo takes on NCAA Division I program Valparaiso in the 2K Classic.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

VALPARAISO – For 12 young college student-athletes, it was a trip-of-a-lifetime when they departed the Indiana University Kokomo campus last Saturday, traveled up US 31 and across US 30 to Valparaiso University to battle the NCAA Division I Crusaders in a subregional round game of the well-known 2K Sports Classic Benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer. While some thought it was crazy for a first-year program that has not even been accepted into the NAIA ranks yet (application has been submitted) to accept this challenge, Cougar head coach Jace Thompson saw it as an opportunity.

“I know their coaching staff pretty well, and Luke Gore called me about three months ago and said there might be an opportunity to come up and play,” said Thompson. “I told the administration I would love to go up there and it was something we were capable of doing. I think some people thought I was crazy. But this is an experience that these guys might never get to do again.”

He said he told the team to think back to their high school teammates, most of whom are not playing college basketball, and consider their thoughts on making the trip to Valpo.

“How many of them would die for the opportunity to play a D1 school in a D1 environment as part of the 2K Sports Classic that is known nationwide,” Thompson said he asked his team. “You grow up dreaming about these situations and I told the team that I wanted to create environments that they could look back on.”

Before the game, Thompson said he knew going in the outcome could look very bad on the scoreboard. But after the final horn sounded, Valpo only won by 31 points, 79-48. Even though the Crusaders played many players who usually don’t see very much floor time, the fact remains those players are on an NCAA Division 1 scholarship while the IUK players are technically walk-ons in a non-affiliated program. That said, most observers would say IUK performed very well on the big stage.

“We learned a lot of things. Our starters held their own against theirs, so we have to get deeper and that is something I will have to work on in recruiting,” said Thompson, who noted that Valpo was up 9-8 when IUK made its first substitutions. “I told the guys in the locker room to take from tonight how hard they work and how hard they sprint to their places. We will have better practices because they now understand the tempo and the pace of where we need to get.”

IUK played NCAA Division II University of District of Columbia the following afternoon as part of the 2K Classic at Valpo, losing 87-51.

The Cougars stay on the road for a game at IU Northwest on Nov. 26. IU Kokomo beat IUN on Nov. 1, 82-76. Kokomo returns for a pair of home games at Western High School, Dec. 1 against Goshen College JV and Dec. 6 against Marian.

IU KOKOMO LOSES TO VALPARAISO IN THE 2K SPORTS CLASSIC

VALPARAISO - After unheralded Indiana University Kokomo battled NCAA Division I Valparaiso University to an early 9-8 score, Valpo went on a 21-0 run and  jumped out to an eventual 30-8 lead less than 10 minutes into Saturday night’s game against the Cougars and cruised from there, earning a 79-48 victory in the Crusaders’ second game of the Valparaiso Subregional of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.

IU Kokomo is a club-level team that has applied for membership in NAIA for the 2012-2013 season.

Coming off of a tough game against Akron just 24 hours before, and with a challenging showdown against Duquesne looming just 20 hours later, head coach Bryce Drew opted to rest or give limited minutes to a number of regulars. Junior Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholiekecholengemeenschap Hoofddorp) did not play at all, while junior Matt Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville) played just nine minutes, posting 10 points on perfect 4-of-4 shooting.

Junior Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) remained in the starting lineup as well, but played just 10 minutes. Broekhoff still ended the game as Valpo’s leading scorer, tallying 13 points.  Meanwhile, redshirt junior Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) saw limited action as well, playing just 13 minutes, scoring six points andgrabbing five rebounds.

With a number of regulars resting, some other Crusaders got the chance to shine in the spotlight Saturday evening.  Redshirt sophomore Hrvoje Vucic (Split, Croatia/Faust Vrancic) and senior walk-on Nick Shelton (Frankenmuth, Mich./Frankenmuth) both made their first career starts on Saturday.  Vucic played 27 minutes, scoring six points and grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds, the Crusaders’ highest total since Michael Rogers pulled down 15 boards against Wright State on Jan. 10, 2009.  Meanwhile, Shelton, who had never played more than six minutes in a single game prior to this year, saw 23 minutes of action and contributed a rebound and an assist.

But a couple of walk-ons who entered off the bench might have been the most improbable of all the stories on Saturday night.  Freshman guard Griffyn Carpenter (Bourbon, Ind./Triton), who officially joined the Crusaders’ active roster prior to Friday’s contest against Akron, played 22 minutes off the bench, posting five points, five rebounds and four assists.  Meanwhile, senior forward Nathan Stegelmann (Goshen, Ind.), who didn’t officially join the active roster until just hours before tipoff, played 24 minutes and was one of four Crusaders in double figures, going 5-of-9 from the floor en route to 11 points. Stegelmann also grabbed six rebounds, including four on the offensive glass, and tallied a Valpo season-high four blocked shots.

Meanwhile, a trio of Crusader guards off the bench contributed to the easy victory as well.  Redshirt sophomore Tommy Kurth (Osceola, Ind./Penn) set a new career high with eight points and didn’t commit a turnover in a team-high 30 minutes of play.  Redshirt junior Will Bogan (Boise, Idaho/Vallivue [Ole Miss]) drained four 3-pointers to register 12 points, while sophomore Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East) was a perfect 6-of-6 from the foul line en route to eight points and also handed out five assists without committing a turnover.

Valpo shot just 40.6% (26-of-64) from the floor Saturday evening, but did great work at the foul line, going 20-of-25 from the charity stripe.  The Crusaders out-rebounded the Cougars 51-38 and turned the ball over just eight times.

Anthony Graves and Brandon Larrick led IU Kokomo with 10 points apiece, with the former also handing out five assists. Jared Lawrence added seven points and a team-high seven rebounds. Johnathan Kelly added nine points and Aaron Knupp had five.

Valparaiso (4-1) closes out action at the subregional on Sunday afternoon against Duquesne at 3:30 p.m. IU Kokomo (1-5) battles the University of the District of Columbia, also on Saturday in the 2K Classic.

(Courtesy Sports Journal staff and Valparaiso University Sports Information Department)