The IU Kokomo men’s basketball team has a home gym and a conference affiliation, both firsts for the young program.
The Cougars also enter the new season with a new-look roster.
Coach Jace Thompson returns six players from a 9-21 squad. He has brought in 11 new players, a mix of transfers and freshmen.
“Jared Lawrence and Aaron Knupp are great to have back. This is their third year in the program and they know what we expect every single day. They set great examples. And Spencer Khrin is just a workhorse. It’s nice to be able to return three guys like that,” Thompson said.
“We have six transfers and a lot of those guys are impact guys. We added a lot of athleticism and length. That was our main focus. We also have some guys in our freshman class who will make their marks.”
The NAIA Division II Cougars open their third season Friday with a road game against Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill. The home opener is Wednesday against Purdue University Calumet.
Thompson and his players are eager for their chance to host opponents in IUK’s new downtown gym after watching the Cougar volleyball team play in front of supportive crowds.
“They’ve seen and I’ve seen how loud that gym gets during volleyball games. I’m really, really looking forward to teams having to come and play us in that gym because it’s a very loud gym and a very tough environment to play in,” Thompson said.
IUK’s schedule has 13 home games.
The Cougars begin play in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference on Nov. 12 with a road game against Point Park University.
Thompson points to improved depth and a stronger defense as potential strengths of his squad.
“Last year, one of the things that hurt us the most was our [lack of] depth. This year, there is no doubt about it, depth is going to be part of our strengths. We can go nine or 10 deep on any given night that we need to. And, our athleticisim is going to allow us to play more physical and a pressing-style defense,” he said.
The Cougars’ depth will allow Thompson to mix and match lineups.
“On any given night, no matter what lineup is thrown at us, we have the pieces that we can throw back at them,” he said, noting that was not the case in previous seasons.
IUK’s top returning scorers include Khrin, a 6-4 senior guard who scored 9.2 points per game last season; Lawrence, a 6-4 junior guard who averaged 8.9 ppg; 6-0 sophomore point guard Jerome Campbell, who scored 6.7 ppg and dished a team-best 3 assists per game; and senior guard Reomey Northington, who scored 9.6 ppg in the five games he played.
Thompson expects a pair of newcomers, 6-1 junior guard Nick Teeter and 6-5 freshman forward Jordan King, to provide scoring.
“Nick Teeter is a good shooter and a crafty scorer. He’s a transfer from Huntington. He scored for them up there,” he said. “Jordan King can probably average five or six offensive rebounds a night — he is that kind of freakish athlete. With offensive rebounds, he can end up with 15 points on any given night.”
Other newcomers include 6-9 senior center Dylan Mosack, a transfer from Illinois Springfield; 6-3 junior wing David Kelly, a transfer from Purdue North Central; and 5-10 freshman point guard Kendall Broome, who played at Ben Davis with King. Thompson is excited about Kelly’s athleticism and Broome’s potential.
IUK lacks a dominant scorer, but has the makings of a balanced team.
“We may be a team that every single night, it’s somebody new,” Thompson said. “As a coach, I know how much we all like to have that scorer, but I also know how much we like to go up against that scorer because it makes a game plan a lot easier when you know exactly where the points are coming from.”
IUK VOLLEYBALL IU Kokomo's volleyball team hosts Asbury College at 6 p.m. today in a match that will play big in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings. Asbury (30-7 overall) leads the league at 9-1 and IUK (27-8 overall) is 8-2. If the visiting Eagles win, they'll clinch the regular-season title and a trip to the NAIA national tournament. If the Cougars win, there would be a three-way tie atop the standings with IUK, Asbury and IU East (9-2). It's anything but an easy task for IUK -- Asbury is riding a 14-match winning streak. IU Kokomo's final home match of the season follows on Friday, when the Cougars host Marian at 7 p.m.