WALTON — After graduating the likes of 6-foot-5 Jordan Miller and 6-4 Ryan Aldridge, a pair who combined to pull down 14 rebounds per game last season, Lewis Cass boys basketball coach Jon Kitchel enters the 2013-14 season likely not to feature anyone over 6-1 in his starting lineup.
The Kings will be guard-heavy and feature a frenetic pace by necessity, and Kitchel is perfectly fine with it. Not only that, but he prefers it.
“When you’re in high school, you kind of take what you have coming. You can’t recruit for style of play, but if I wanted a team that fits my personality, this would be the one," Kitchel explained. "These kids attack on both the offensive and defensive ends. They play very, very hard and practice hard. Everything they do is at full-game speed, whether it’s shooting drills or running offenses without or without defense. They play hard and smart. They’ve played a lot of basketball and understand the game. It’s going to be a really fun team to watch. We’ll get up and down the floor.”
Senior guards Austin Keisling (5-11) and Blake Hadley (5-9) return to share the backcourt once more for the Kings, who went 10-11 last season. Keisling earned Kokomo Tribune All-Area second team honors after scoring 16.2 points per game and shooting 72.7 percent from the free throw line. Hadley added 10.0 ppg in his junior campaign.
“Keisling is absolutely ripped," Kitchel said. "He hit the weight room as hard as I’ve ever seen anyone attack a weight room in the offseason. He doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him, and he’s playing really strong. Hadley did the same thing, so we’re much stronger than we were last year. We’re going to have to rely on them a lot."
Sophomore guard Ryan Bixler (6-0) will round out Kitchel's three-guard lineup, while junior forward Owen Ohman (6-0) will slide into the starting lineup after seeing varsity minutes as a sophomore. Senior post Victory DeJesus (6-1) played primarily JV as a junior, but will make the leap into the starting lineup, where he will likely draw tough defensive assignments against taller opponents.
“We’re going to have to do an extremely good job with blocking out with our lack of size," Kitchel said. "We’re going to have to put pressure on the ball on defense when we play bigger teams. We have to do a good job of keeping the ball out of the post."
Senior guards Jake Martin (6-0) and Destin Irwin (5-9) will see their share of varsity minutes, as will senior post Drew McCray (6-1) and freshman swingman Evan Ohman (6-3), who drew praise from Kitchel.
“He’s a very good shooter, Kitchel said. "He’s a smart player. He’s played a lot of basketball in AAU. He’s very confident, and will be a nice player for us the next four years.”
As for expectations, Kitchel is cautiously optimistic: "I’m not going to say so many wins or losses because I don’t know. A lot of that depends on what’s around. But, my expectations are very high for them. And, they feel that way, too. They are of the same mindset.”
KINGS' SCHEDULE Wed. at North Miami Dec. 3, 6 Cass County Invitational Dec. 13 Hamilton Heights Dec. 14 at Carroll Dec. 20 at Taylor Dec. 21 Rochester Jan. 11 at Tri-Central Jan. 17 Pioneer Jan. 18 Logansport Jan. 24 at Northwestern Jan. 25 at Delphi Jan. 31 at Maconaquah Feb. 1 Clinton Central Feb. 7 Peru Feb. 8 at Winamac Feb. 13 Eastern Feb. 15 at Wabash Feb. 21 Western Feb. 25 at Tipton