Second-year coach Zach Hahn is taking a wait-and-see approach to the 2015-16 Center Grove boys basketball season.
The program graduated its fifth all-time leading scorer and reigning Daily Journal Player of the Year in 6-foot-4 swingman Michael Benkert along with five other seniors who played pivotal roles in the Trojans’ 13-10 finish a year ago.
It’s a group that accounted for 71 percent of the team’s field goals, 73 percent of all made free throws and 75 percent of both assists and rebounds.
Occasional starter Bryce Brown, a 6-6 senior who averaged 3.8 points a game, is Center Grove’s most experienced player at the varsity level. Senior guards Trevor Harrell and Bailey Barrett also proved to be valued performers as the season progressed.
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“For us having only three returning varsity guys, one who started occasionally, we really improved this off-season in our skill development. We’ve got guys that can make shots and guys that have better footwork,” Hahn said.
“But we need better ball pressure, better team defense, better communication both offensively and defensively. We really struggle right now to be physical, and that’s an area we have to get better at, as well.”
Joining this nucleus of players and expected to make an impact are 6-6 freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, 6-6 sophomore Noah Gillard, 6-1 junior Travis Roehling and 6-4 sophomore forward Joey Klaasen.
A second freshman frontline player, 6-5 forward Lucas Doyle, should also vie for playing time.
Completing the Trojans varsity roster are seniors Sam Meier, a 5-9 guard; 6-1 swingman Drew Conrad and 6-2 forward Jackson Williams. Parker Ferguson, a 6-5 junior forward, could see varsity minutes along with 6-2 guard Nate McLain.
The Trojans were supposed to begin the regular season tonight at Franklin Community, though that game has been rescheduled for Jan. 5 due to Center Grove’s football team playing for a Class 6A state championship (Conrad, Ferguson and Doyle are varsity football players) on Saturday.
Hahn’s squad won’t play its first game until Dec. 4 at New Palestine. The team’s home opener is the following evening against Bloomington North.
Starting the season later than usual could benefit Center Grove in terms of players building chemistry on and away from the basketball court.
“You just try to make them as good as you can during the offseason and find a way to put five guys on the floor at a time that can win games. There’s no question that we have the potential to do that. It’s a matter of if and when,” Hahn said.
“Last year we had six seniors who had played together for several years. Right now we’re looking at playing a couple of freshmen, a couple of sophomores along with juniors and seniors, so it’s a huge mixture of players.”
The 2014-15 season proved to be a classroom all its own for Hahn, a young head coach (he’s 27) at a large high school participating in what’s commonly viewed as the state’s premier conference (Metropolitan Interscholastic).
Among the lessons learned is that a basketball season, as enjoyable as it is, can be a grind.
“There are a lot of schedules where people say it’s the toughest schedule in the state. I think ours is right up there by the simple fact it’s usually a MIC school, which is usually a top 10 team, or it’s an area school that really wants to beat us,” Hahn said.
“It’s about not getting too high after the wins and not to get too low after a loss. More than anything to understand that you’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never as good as you think you are.”
CENTER GROVE SCHEDULE
Dec. 4;at New Palestine;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 5;Bloomington North;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 11;Pike;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 12;at Martinsville;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 18;Whiteland;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 22;Perry Meridian;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 30;at Greenwood;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 2;at Cathedral;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 5;at Franklin Community;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 12-16;Johnson County Tournament
Jan. 22;Ben Davis;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 23;at Roncalli;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 27;Franklin Central;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 29;at Lawrence North;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 4;Warren Central, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 12;Lawrence Central;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 16;at Mooresville;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 19;North Central;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 23;Brownsburg;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 25;at Columbus North;7:30 p.m.