Last season, Cory Richards required roughly 14 quarters of basketball before feeling completely comfortable at the varsity level.
After that, there was no looking back.
Richards, a left-handed sharpshooter who went on to lead Franklin in scoring with a 12.1 average as a sophomore, is among those returning as the Grizzly Cubs seek what would be the program’s fifth winning season in six years.
“It did take a couple of games for me to get going just because it was the first varsity minutes I’ve ever played. It was the Hauser game where I finally felt comfortable,” said Richards of the Cubs’ fourth game, an 82-78 overtime victory. “I got off to a slow start, but as the game went on I flowed into it.
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“It just helps having the teammates I had around me. Coach (Brad) Dickey put me in a lot of positions to where I could score, and I just put the ball in the basket, I guess.”
Defending Franklin along the perimeter could be a pick-your-poison scenario.
Richards and two of his classmates, junior guards Reece Thomson and Blaine Wentzell, teamed to make 98 of Franklin’s 141 3-pointers last season. There were 11 games in which the 6-foot Thomson made at least three triples — including a string of five consecutive games.
The Grizzly Cubs interior play will be spearheaded by Drew Byerly, a 6-2 sophomore who scored at a 5.6 clip in 2016-17 and finished second on the team in rebounds (3.7) and assists (2.2). Senior center Nate Sellers, junior forward Luke Miles and sophomore Jake Jones, a 6-5 post, are also expected to contribute.
Junior center Nolan Smith is out with an ACL injury, but will play a role upon his return in January.
“We’re starting to see some size come in,” Dickey said. “We’re still not particularly tall, but we have strong kids and they really like basketball. I expect us to develop dramatically throughout our season.”
Dickey, whose squad finished 14-9 and won five games by four points or less last season, likes the potential of his fourth Franklin team.
“We’ve got a set of kids right now that really, really like basketball,” Dickey said. “Ever since I arrived (in 2014) they’ve been to workouts. They play a lot on their own. I wasn’t surprised a year ago that our sophomores did well.
“Now add that they had excellent leadership from three really good seniors last year. We need to grow up physically, mentally and emotionally, and we are.”
Nov. 21;Center Grove;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 1;at Decatur Central;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 2;Seymour;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 8;Greenwood;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 9;at Hauser,7:30 p.m.
Dec. 16;Shelbyville;8 p.m.
Dec. 27;at Rushville tournament
Jan. 6;Mooresville;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 9-13;Johnson County tournament
Jan. 19;Whiteland;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 20;at New Palestine;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 26;at Martinsville;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 27;Southport;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1;at Brown County;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 6;at Columbus North;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 10;at Columbus East;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 13;Roncalli;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 16;at Plainfield;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 20;at Perry Meridian;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 23;Jennings County;7:30 p.m.
Head coach: Brad Dickey
Last season: 14-9, lost to Franklin Central in sectional semifinal
Key returnees: Drew Byerly, So., F; Blake Dicken, Sr., G; Cory Richards, Jr., G; Nate Sellers, Sr., C; Reece Thomson, Jr., G; Blaine Wentzell, Jr., G
Fresh faces: Jake Jones, So., C; Cody Mahler, So., G; Luke Miles, Jr., F; Nolan Smith, Jr., C
Outlook: Fifty-eight percent of the Grizzly Cubs’ scoring returns, led by guards Richards, Thomson and Wentzell. Down low, Byerly is expected to log major minutes along with sophomore post Jones. Thomson led the way from behind the 3-point arc last season with 44 triples; Richards and Wentzell produced 31 and 23, respectively. How Jones, Miles and senior post Sellers produce beneath the basket will have a significant say in what kind of season the program produces.
Coachspeak: “Our whole squad last year was unintentionally patient. We had very mindful, conscientious kids that didn’t feel open. We’re counting on this year’s group to feel open and be open more often. Our balance needs to come from effective outside shooting and strong interior play. We’ve got enough strength and speed to score inside and plenty of outside shooting. We need to get our percentages right. We need to have a good balance, and that will be an ongoing challenge.” — Dickey