Inexperience was bad enough for the Franklin College men’s basketball team.
But when injuries were factored in, the 2014-15 season added up to something the Grizzlies would rather forget: a 5-20 record, including a 4-14 ledger in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
“It was a study in what happens when you put a young team into a league to play against juniors and seniors,” coach Kerry Prather said. “On one level, the fact that we struggled wasn’t a complete surprise. We got banged up, which was really the complication that prevented us from being able to play around some inconsistency just with a little more depth.
“Once that was compromised, then you’ve just got to live with the inconsistency that comes with not having enough experience under their belt.”
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But that was then. This is now.
Older, wiser, stronger and faster, the Grizzlies enter the 2015-16 season with a considerably sunnier outlook.
With the return of four starters, including last year’s top scorers, the Grizzlies not only expect to improve on last year’s record but to contend for the HCAC championship.
Prather sees no reason why they can’t.
“Players develop in the offseason. I can tell an enormous difference in the amount of progress they’ve made in terms of physical maturity and mostly skill development,” Prather said. “It’s not a matter of just getting a year older, it’s a matter of getting a year better.
“What I suspected was a really good offseason I think has borne out.”
Leading way for the Grizzlies are returning starters Aaron Mann, Trae Washington, Robbie Prather and Matt Niehoff.
Mann, a 6-foot-3 junior guard, averaged team-high totals last season of 16.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Washington, a 5-8 senior guard, averaged 11.6 points and a team-high 4.7 assists. Prather, a 5-10 junior guard, averaged 10.3 points and a team-high 2.0 three-point baskets per game.
Niehoff, a 6-3 senior forward, averaged 5.5 points last season in 16 starts. He is expected to be full-time starter this season, along with John Beineke, a 6-7 junior forward/center. He appeared in all 25 games last season, with one start, and averaged 6.6 points.
Besides those players, the Grizzlies expect regular contributions from Brent McCory, a 6-4 junior forward who battled injuries much of last season, and from Trey Boles, a 6-3 junior guard who played in 24 games last season.
Joining the veterans is a handful of freshmen who could play meaningful roles, notably Blake Oakley, Josh Martindale and Dylan Cregar. Oakley is a 6-foot guard from Northwestern High School. Martindale is a 6-5 forward from Bloomington South, and Cregar is a 6-4 forward from Franklin County.
Prather is confident the influx of new will complement a veteran team that’s determined — and seemingly well-equipped — to reverse last year’s fortunes.
“What I expect to happen is, we leverage the experience that we got last year, coupled with some strength development and some skill development, and now we’re one of those teams that’s got juniors and seniors,” Prather said. “And we’ll be much, much, much readier to compete in a league like this.”
10;Trae Washington;G;Sr.;5-8;Bloomington South
15;Trey Boles;G;Jr.;6-3;Carroll County (Ky.)
20;Doryaun Harvey;G;So.;6-0;Providence Cristo Rey
32;Lucas Peters;G;So.;6-0;Greenwood Christian
40;Brett McCory;F;Jr.;6-4;Brownstown Central
42;Josh Martindale;F;Fr.;6-5;Bloomington South
44;John Beineke;F/C;Jr.;6-7;Perry Meridian
51;Dylan Cregar;F;Fr.;6-4;Franklin County
52;James Polston;F;Fr.;6-4;Triton Central
Braiden Cardinal;G;Fr.;6-1;West Vigo
Dylan Knopp;G;So.;6-1;North Harrison
Luke Peduto;G;Fr.;6-3;Heritage Christian
Head coach: Kerry Prather
Assistant coaches: Brian Lebowitz, Charles Ruffing, Sam Kinder