HOWARD COUNTY 2012-2013 BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEWS

Eastern Comets senior guard K.J. Myers (Photo by William Gibson)

FOR SCHEDULES, ROSTERS AND MORE INFORMATION, SEE THE NOV. 20 EDITION OF THE SPORTS JOURNAL.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO WILDKATS

Pre-season rankings: (AP) Class 4A No. 11, (Coaches) All-Class No. 19

With two straight sectional championship 20-win seasons and five consecutive 13-win seasons, some might think the Kats would fall off the pace with the loss of an Indiana All-Star. But that is not the case as Kokomo looks to continue its winning brand of basketball with key returning starters being joined by new blood.

“We are excited about this year,” said seventh year head coach Brian McCauley. “Last year’s team had an outstanding season.”

McCauley went through the last two year’s roster and it is dotted with former Kats playing at the collegiate level: D.J. Balentine at Evansville, Parker Salinas and Jalen Tinder at IU Kokomo, Huston Clark at IU East and Cheyse Swain went to Dubuque, but he is now going into the military. In addition, Armon Bridgeforth is currently at Indiana Tech and is attempting to join the University of Indianapolis Greyhounds. However, these losses don’t seem to be slowing the Kats down on the court.

“We have had a lot of great players, but that is over now,” said McCauley. “This group is hungry to leave their mark on the rich tradition of Kokomo basketball. We have a great group of seniors who represent the school well. They are good students and are involved in multiple sports.

“LaBradford Sebee is a three-year starter for us and gets better each year. He will be a great leader for us on and off the court. Dylan Orbaugh is a tremendous football and baseball player and has a solid attitude, and we are expecting him to be a solid perimeter player and leader for us. Christian Collins is a great kid and adds a lot of size for us while being a good rebounder. Kylee Beheler is probably our most improved player this year and understands his role – he will be a solid presence for us. Hakim Burnett has done a great job of improving, and he led our JV team last year.”

He also pointed to two seniors who are injured but should see playing time later in the season.

“Jesse Broomfield is a baseball player who is coming back from a knee injury. And Montanez Fowler is also recovering from a football injury and we hope to have him back by the second semester. I am not sure that will happen but that is the goal.”

While seven seniors dot the roster, the Kats have a solid and experienced underclassman roster, led by a pair of juniors who contributed significantly last year.

“Tayler Persons (479 points through two seasons) is a very skilled basketball player and we are going to need his competitiveness and toughness. He is going to score some points for us from the outside and slashing the lane. And Erik Bowen obviously had a tremendous year last year and has great size, capability and skill. And his greatest asset is a great attitude. He will give us a solid presence offensively.”

Other juniors who will vie for playing time include: Brad Dockemeyer, who has good size at 6-5 and he will defend inside and also has confidence from the outside; Mykal Cox, who is new to the program and someone the coach says has a high basketball IQ; Jazimar Woodard, who has a great feel for the game of basketball; and Brandon Wilson, who has good size and good feet and will continue to improve.

The Wildkats will once again face a challenging schedule, one McCauley calls, “as good as it has ever been.” That is nothing new for Kokomo, who will see teams like defending 4A state champion Carmel, two-time 3A Final Four squad Tipton, Fort Wayne Northrop with the Scott brothers, Logansport with Antonio Penny, Fishers with Jaylon Brown and Marion with Tyler Arens. They kick off the season Wednesday at Western.

EASTERN COMETS

One year ago, the Comets were led by the strong play in the paint of 1,000 point scorer Josiah Price. But now that he is playing football at Michigan State, Eastern must revamp the look of the team and look toward a more outside presence if they want to find success in the second year of the Kyle Bedwell era.

“We lost about 80-percent of our offense with Joey going to East Lansing,” said Bedwell. “That will be hard to replace; he was huge in the middle.”

Bedwell said team speed will be the key to wins for the Comets this season.

“I think our guard play is going to be our strength,” said Bedwell. “We are going to have to be quicker than other teams. We will be shorter than every team we play this year.”

The Comets have two players who will see plenty of action outside of the paint, and both have a considerable amount of varsity minutes to return to the lineup.

“K.J. Myers has been steady for us as a three-year starter,” said Bedwell. “He will be really hard to replace next year and this year he will be very solid at the top of the key. He can break anyone down on the drive. And Braden Gibson will handle the ball and played a lot as a sophomore last year. K.J. will be at the one and Braden at the two.”

While Myers and Gibson will lead from the outside, Bedwell said the players in the paint have speed as well.

“The development of Grant Cole was key last season,” he said. “He can throw it down and that is something that we see every day in practice. And now that is something we want to see him do in games – it will open us up. And again, he will be shorter than everyone he faces in the three slot.

“But even our so-called big men will be quick. Seniors Josiah Marx, Grant Cole and Josh Keith are quick and will try and beat people down the court. We just lack muscle and size. That is why we are concentrating on our speed.”

After those five players, Bedwell said the bench thins – and as a result he hopes players like Marx and Keith do not get into foul trouble.

“It gets a little harry,” he said. “(Sophomore) Pappe Byers is coming out for basketball this year, and he is quick and aggressive. But he took a year off from basketball and it will be hard for him to get back into it. After that, we are looking at some other sophomores – Brady Zirkle, possibly. They will have to earn it. We will have a good JV team, but I don’t think they are ready for the varsity yet. I do have one freshman I have been impressed with, and that is Braden Evans – but I don’t know if he will see varsity action this year.”

The Comets have an uphill climb to get into contention in the Mid-Indiana Conference. But with solid guard play and a quick tempo, this experienced squad may catch a few teams by surprise.

NORTHWESTERN TIGERS

Pre-season ranking: (AP) Class 3A No. 13

It is hard to believe, but with one state 2A title and eight seasons under his belt, Northwestern head coach Jim Gish is the Dean of boys basketball coaches in Howard County. But despite the past accolades, last year’s opening game sectional loss to West Lafayette in triple overtime, after an 18-2 regular season, is still fresh in his mind.

“That was tough. But we have a lot of new faces this year,” said Gish, whose Tigers saw nine seniors graduate from the squad. “I am very pleased with the fact the kids that came in have kept the intensity level of the year before. Sometimes you have to boost kids confidence, but not this year – I don’t think we have had a bad practice.”

Gish said his team understands there is much at stake for each player on the squad – plenty of playing time.

“They all know that minutes are up for grabs with all of our graduation losses,” he said. “Just about anyone can get some time. We want to win basketball games, and to win, we want to put the best players on the floor. As a result, it has been fun to watch the kids challenge each other. We don’t have a lot of selfishness in the program.”

With positions up for grabs, Gish will turn to his two returning seniors to help guide the younger players on the Tigers hardwood.

“We have two seniors coming back and they have both worked very hard,” said Gish. “Trenton Brazel and Chase Johnson are ready to be competitive and contribute to the varsity level. As adversity comes at us this year, I have the confidence in Trenton and Chase that they will help guide us through the adversity without being selfish. James Herrington is a third senior, and the three of them have worked very diligently to get to where they are, and I am anxious to see their leadership skills develop.”

The rest of the Northwestern Tigers will be made up of players with little-to-no experience on the varsity floor. Most of the contenders for playing time come from the junior class.

Robert Olsen will be a defensive specialist for us,” said Gish. “Graham Ortmann will be in the game to help break down zone defenses and it will be important for him to get some shots as the season progresses. Keagan Downey is a great athlete and will play around the basket. Logan Galbraith will be at a guard who I have some confidence in his shot. Logan Macaluso had a great scrimmage and I think he will become a viable option for us.”

Blake Oakley, Jacob Wagner, Blaine Brutus and Tyler Hudson are sophomores who will also challenge for playing time.

This could be a challenging year for the Dean of Howard County coaches, but if his squad comes together in an unselfish manner, success very well could be on the agenda.

TAYLOR TITANS

Last season, the Taylor Titans were learning a new style of coaching for the first time in 20 years as Andy Lewman took over for the retired Jeff Fisher. And while a 9-14 record might not sound impressive, there were many positives to be taken away from year one: the second best scoring average since 2000-2001 (58 points per game), a first round sectional win and staying competitive in most games (nine games were lost by 10 points or less).

“We worked very hard to improve our skills and be in games at the end,” said Lewman. “This year, we will look to take steps over the hump instead of being on the hump.”

He said he is excited about many of his returning players and he believes the Titans will be competitive in 2012-2013. While the season is early, he is focusing on five players who should made significant contributions this year.

“I definitely think we are in a situation where we will be competitive,” said Lewman, who pointed to a pair of key seniors. “We have Nathan Gotshall coming back and he averaged just short of 10 points per game last year. He can do a lot of different things on the post and on the perimeter. And Challen Hodson, our leading scorer, is coming back after averaging about 12 point per game. Between Nathan and Challen, they are very good 3-point shooters.

“We also have senior Nick Hoover who just goes out there and works hard every night. Junior Calvin Wheeler, who ended up playing 16 games at the varsity level as the season progressed; he is continuing to improve this year. And we have senior Logan Barnes back after taking a year off for baseball – I am pleased with the way he is picking things up.

“Those five are spending more time on the floor, and that might make us a little bit smaller, but I think it puts us in situations that will make us quick. I am excited to see what these five can do.”

While Lewman may have his eyes on five players who he thinks will start, he also is watching three other players who will see time on the floor and will give the top five a run for their money.

“Latrell Mitchell will come off the bench for us as an undersized big man,” said the second-year coach. “And we have two newcomers in Darryn Small and freshman Cole Schroeder. Darren is 6-6 with limited experience, but I think he has a lot of upside and I am looking forward to seeing how much he develops over the course of the year. Cole is a competitive young man and I am excited to see how he fits in. I want to make sure Cole gets some action at the JV level for the experience, but I think he will get into the equation as we enter the latter half of the season.”

The Titans may not be the most experienced squad in the area, but if last year was any indication, they will be competitive. And if a team is competitive, victories will come.

WESTERN PANTHERS

It may be a new era for the Western boys basketball team, but a familiar face will be stalking the Richard Rea Gymnasium sideline. Bart Miller takes over his alma mater’s program after serving as Andy Weaver’s assistant coach for 14 seasons. Weaver left the Panthers for the same position at Plainfield after a 15 year run.

Miller’s Western roots run so deep he could be called Mr. Panther. His father, Larry, was a member of the 1965 Panther team and returned for a long career as a teacher and athletic administrator (17 years as the athletic director). Miller’s brother Jade is a 1988 graduate and former player, and Bart played for Tom Lewis’s 1990 sectional championship team before graduating one year later. When he was hired, Miller said he basically grew up in the hallways of Western High School.

As a coach, he has been a part of six 3A sectional championships, six Mid-Indiana Conference titles and one regional title squad. But that was as an assistant coach – now he knows this is his program to shape.

“It is totally different. I always knew Andy was busy with the administrative things as the head coach. I thought I knew all of those things, but I found out quickly I only knew most of them,” said Miller with a laugh.

While paperwork might be tricky, looking at the personnel on the floor is not. He knows who and what he has coming back.

“We really only have three players with significant varsity experience,” he said. “Evan Warden is a junior guard and is a great leader on and off the floor. Ronnie Smith is one of two returning seniors and does a nice job inside – he is very athletic and rebounds well. Senior Austin Townsend is the third returner who had minutes last year at varsity. He is a forward/center who does a nice job on the boards.”

He also singled out two other sophomore players who round out the returning players with varsity minutes. One is Des Balentine, brother of former Kokomo Wlldkat D.J., who returns to the Panthers after being slowed during last year’s freshman season.

“He broke his kneecap last year and that held him back. He was never at full strength last year but he should handle the ball this year,” said Miller. “And Austin Weaver saw the floor some and he played really well on the JV. That really rounds our experience.”

Miller said four other seniors will vie for playing time this year: Mitchell Shahan, Tyler Adams, Brett Hemmeger and Kyle Mendenhall.

From the junior class, Mo Townsend brings an all-around game to the floor, Devon Eaker and Chris Carter will split time with JV and varsity, and Zac Simpson and Nic Brewley will play inside.

The Miller Era is beginning in Russiaville, although with a legacy of 14 years coaching the hoopsters of Western as an assistant, nothing is really changing. And that means the wins should pile up as they have for the last 10 years in Rea Gym.

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