Center Grove guard Nate McLain has experienced being both as a starter and valued backup the past two boys basketball seasons.
The 6-foot-3 senior doesn’t have a preference.
McLain, coming off a season in which he averaged 7.1 points, doesn’t care what his role is as long as the Trojans spend the next four months building upon the momentum built during last season’s Class 4A sectional championship run.
“I just like to come in and do my job wherever the coach needs me. I’m just trying to do what I can for the team,” McLain said. “I just want to win, so I’ll do whatever it takes to get that done.
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“Coach (Zach) Hahn definitely gives every guy the opportunity (to start).”
McLain is one of many reasons Center Grove could find itself in a position to secure a second straight sectional title for the first time since 1985-86.
Junior forward-center Trayce Jackson-Davis, a starter since his freshman campaign, has sprouted to 6-8 and is one of the state’s most-sought-after prospects from the class of 2019.
Jackson-Davis is coming off a season in which he averaged 12.4 points, 9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks. He currently has offers from 11 Division I programs, including Indiana, Purdue, Butler, Michigan State and Ohio State.
The left-hander could be more dominant this season.
“He has changed his whole approach to playing basketball. I think it started a little bit midway through last year,” Hahn said. “He has a whole new level of maturity and focus. We asked a lot of Trayce to play in one of the best conferences in the state of Indiana as a freshman.
“That’s hard to do. He’s figured out who he has to be as a player, which has really separated him from a lot of other kids.”
Other experienced players back are senior forward Joey Klaasen, junior guards Spencer Piercefield and Ben Nicoson and 6-5 junior power forward Lucas Doyle.
This core helped the Trojans advance to the Seymour Regional, where they battled 2016 Class 4A champion New Albany — led by guard Romeo Langford, this season’s Mr. Basketball front-runner — before dropping a 57-52 decision.
Rather than being content with simply playing a great team close, Center Grove is hungrier because of the loss.
“I think winning the sectional was huge for our program. We’ve had good teams and teams that could compete every year that I’ve been here,” Hahn said. “But to finally get over that hump of proving that we can play, and that this program isn’t just built for a year or built for two years, the challenge is responding to some of the success you’ve had.”
McLain, who could start or be sixth or seventh man when the Trojans open the season at Franklin on Nov. 21, believes they will.
“(Last season) definitely gave us a lot of confidence coming into the season, and I think it’s going to translate into this season,” McLain said. “We definitely got a taste of what we can do. We’ll see how far we can take it.”
Nov. 21;at Franklin;7:30 p.m.
Nov. 25;Franklin Central;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 1;at Southport;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 2;Bloomington North;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 8;Pike;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 9;Hamilton Southeastern;3:20 p.m.*
Dec. 15;Whiteland;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 16;at Avon;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 19;Perry Meridian;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 29:at Greenwood;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 5;at Carmel;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 9-13;Johnson County tournament;TBA
Jan. 19;Ben Davis;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 20;at Roncalli;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 26;at Lawrence North;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1;Warren Central;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 9;Lawrence Central;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 13;at Mooresville;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 16;North Central;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 20;Brownsburg;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 22;at Columbus North;7:30 p.m.
* – at Southport
Head coach: Zach Hahn
Last season: 17-8, lost to New Albany in Seymour Regional semifinal
Key returnees: Lucas Doyle, Jr., F; Trayce Jackson-Davis, Jr., F/C; Joey Klaasen, Sr., F; Nate McLain, Sr., G; Ben Nicoson, Jr., G; Spencer Piercefield, Jr., G.
Outlook: Opposing defenses will be out to limit the productivity of Jackson-Davis down low, but it’s there that the perimeter shooting of Piercefield, McLain and others should come in handy. Klaasen does a bit of everything at forward, while Nicoson, inserted into the starting lineup in a 59-53 overtime victory at Ben Davis last season, is a gritty defender along the perimeter.
Coachspeak: “In the offseason, the goal is to always improve your individuals first. That’s one thing that we pride ourselves on here. That our guys have to get better individually, and that’s going to make your team better collectively. More than anything, the thing they’ve done a better job of is coming in with more tenacity in the offseason. Coming in with more focus. Having more drive. That’s elevated throughout the entire program. We’ve done things the right way, but until you have something to validate what you’re doing, it’s hard to get that next-level mentality. I think we have that now.” — Hahn