By BRYAN GASKINS Kokomo Tribune
---- — Carroll boys basketball coach Matt Weaver is hoping for another solid season after leading the Cougars to a 12-10 record as a rookie skipper in 2012-13.
Clinton Central coach Scott Leighty, meanwhile, is hoping for his squad to take a big step forward in his second season. The Bulldogs went with a youth movement a season ago and finished with a 1-21 record, their fifth straight season with three or fewer wins.
Both squads begin play tonight with Carroll hosting Seeger and Clinton Central traveling to Delphi.
The following are looks at the squads.
Weaver has to replace five seniors from last season’s squad, including KT All-Area player Eric Miller.
“We’re working a lot on our team defense and our defense in general,” Weaver said. “We have three returning varsity players from last year’s team — that’s it. Just building up that team continuity in defense has been a big focus in preseason practices.”
The Cougars’ returning players are 6-foot-5 junior forward Brandon Dillon, 6-5 junior post Jarin Bush and 6-3 senior guard Seth Eldridge.
Last season, Dillon averaged 10 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, ranking second on the team in scoring and tying for first in rebounding. Bush scored 8 ppg and shot an area-best 72.3 percent from the field. Eldridge scored 4.2 ppg and was second on the team in 3-point makes (17).
“They’re looking really good,” Weaver said. “All three have phenomenal work ethics. I believe Bush is one of the strongest back-to-the-basket players around the area, regardless of school size. Dillon is a phenomenal athlete and Eldridge is strong and intelligent. So they bring back key pieces to our team.”
Three players are moving up from JV — 6-4 sophomore post Spencer Sproul and senior guards Derick Caldwell and Logan Jackson. In addition, junior guard Jared Miller is back after missing last season with an injury.
Senior point guard Justin Willoughby and freshman Colin Hodson also are in the mix.
“Last year, we had some success with [efficient] field goal shooting and defense. We want to continue that — play inside-out, play great team defense, play hard,” Weaver said.
Carroll was tops in the area last season in team field-goal percentage (52.4) and team 3-point percentage (35.0). The Cougars graduated three of their top four 3-point shooters.
Weaver sees a competitive Hoosier Heartland Conference race this year, pointing to defending champion Rossville and Tri-Central as possible favorites.
Carroll jumps right into league play this week, hosting Clinton Prairie on Saturday,
Leighty likes what he has seen from his squad in preseason practices.
“As a coach, you’re probably never 100 percent satisfied, but I feel really good. Things have gone well,” he said. “We have a young team again — we were extremely young last year and we have pretty much everybody back. We feel like we’re a year older, a year stronger and hopefully a little bit smarter. I’m curious to see whether all the hard work we did over the summer will pay off. From what I’ve seen in practice, it is paying off so we’d like to see that translate to the games.”
The Bulldogs’ returning players include junior guard Jake Burton, who scored a team-high 12 points per game and dished a team-high 3 assists per game; senior guard Lane McCoy, who was second on the team in scoring (9.9); and senior forward Cole Simmons, who was third on the team in scoring (7.3) and tops in rebounding (4.4 per game).
“We ran Jake at the point last season out of necessity. We’re hoping with some of the other guys stepping up, we can move him more to a swing or a forward [position] and get him involved even more in the offense,” Leighty said.
The Bulldogs also return junior swingman Tyler Burns (4 ppg), senior forwards Jack Rawlings and Lewis Reynolds and junior forward Logan Adams.
Junior point guard Brandon Eiman is also in the mix.
Defensive improvement is a must for the Bulldogs, who gave up 82 ppg last season. They scored only 51.4 ppg.
“We struggled a lot on the defensive end. Of course, we had a lot of turnovers that led to a lot of points, but we also struggled just making it tough on the other team to score,” Leighty said. “We focused a lot on defense [in the preseason]. We’re hoping if we can defend, it will keep us in a lot of games.”
Clinton Central visits Delphi tonight, then plays in the eight-team Delphi Classic next week. The Bulldogs will end up playing their first four games on Delphi’s court.
PREVIEW SCHEDULE SATURDAY: Taylor, Maconaquah SUNDAY: Kokomo, Western MONDAY: Eastern, Cass TUESDAY: Northwestern, Peru TODAY: Carroll, Clinton Central Note: Tipton and Tri-Central previews will run next month, close to their season openers. Their seasons have been delayed by their football teams' tournament runs.