Indiana University Kokomo is ready to take its first step into the college basketball world.
The Cougars’ inaugural season begins tonight with a road game against IU Northwest in Gary.
“We have a lot of young players. I think for 10 [of the 13], this will be their first time ever playing college basketball. You have to wait and see how they’re going to react on the floor, but practices so far have been highly competitive,” IUK coach Jace Thompson said.
“We’ve had some leaders step up — Aaron Knupp from Blue River Valley, Brandon Larrick from Western and Jake Robertson from Tri-Central are freshmen who have done good jobs and Anthony Graves is a junior college transfer who also has done a good job.”
Martin is a North Central High School product. He played the last two years at Lake Michigan Junior College.
Basketball is a club sport at IUK at this point. The school hopes to join the NAIA ranks, possibly as soon as next year. It has submitted an application.
The Cougars will play their home games in Western High School’s south gymnasium. Their home debut is set for Nov. 17 against Bethel.
Thompson points to defense as a potential strength of the squad.
“This team works together very well,” he said. “Their communication on the defensive end, I think, is going to surprise some other teams. They’re a highly intense and motivated group on the defensive end.”
Thompson noted the offense is a work in progress, particularly with the squad’s lack of height. The Cougars’ tallest player is the 6-foot-5 Knupp.
“We have so many long, athletic guards and they have similar skill sets. It’s just going to take time to learn how to play together and who can do what,” he said.
“We’re starting see some [progress], but we really need to play another opponent. We’re tired of playing ourselves every day in practice. We need to get out there and play somebody else so we can start to work on some of those things.”
Thompson noted his freshmen will need to adjust to playing the more demanding college schedule, which has more travel and in some cases, more games than practices in a week.
“I think once we get going, they’re going to realize how important that preparation was at the beginning of the season,” he said. “At the same time, they’re also ready to get going and get a game under their belt.”
The Cougars will follow tonight’s game with a pair of games in Calumet College’s Tip-Off Classic over the weekend at Hammond.
Thompson will look at the big picture when he judges the Cougars’ debut season.
“We’ve talked a lot about the process. I told [the players] over and over again, if we take care of the little things, the wins and losses will come out just how we [hope]. We want to be able to walk off the floor every night and have the opposing team say, ‘That team closes out hard, that team blocks out, that team plays hard.’”