SHARPSVILLE — On the surface, the 2013-14 Tri-Central boys basketball season could be a pleasant surprise, that is if coach Kyle Zahn’s optimism stemming from seven returning lettermen is any indication.
The Trojans, coming off five losing campaigns in the last six seasons including five consecutive setbacks at the hands of Lafayette Central Catholic in Class A sectional championship bouts, lost only leading scorer Kolby Thomas and Clay Smith from last year’s club that finished 11-12.
Thomas averaged 10.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while Smith offered 10 ppg and 5.5 rpg.
But Zahn is very positive in regard to his fifth TC crew that involves four seniors, four juniors and three sophomores including seven veterans who provided 63 percent of the scoring, 51 percent of the rebounding and 81 percent of the assists last season — a group that speaks of experience and depth.
Tri-Central opens Friday at Tipton. TC’s opener was pushed back by the Trojan football team’s run to the Class A state championship.
The four senior veterans include 5-foot-11 Garrett Dick (9.7 points, 5.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds per game); 6-2 Seth Blunck (7.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg); 5-8 Dalton Davis (5.3 ppg, 2 apg) and 6-0 Michael Trine.
Also back are junior Cody Howell (5.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg), 6-0 sophomore Dillon Smith (6.9 ppg) and 5-11 sophomore Colten Leininger.
The other varsity performers include juniors Bryce Dowell (6-3), Cale Hindman (6-1) and Kevin Blackwood (6-0) and sophomores Cody Colbert (5-11) and Colby Malson (5-11).
“This is the smallest team we’ve had in four seasons, but I feel it’s the strongest,” Zahn said, noting he likes his team’s leadership and the potential for good depth.
“Our major concerns will be rebounding and turnovers. We averaged about 25 rebounds per game last year. But this team isn’t very big and our rebounding will have to be by committee meaning a total team effort. This will determine how successful we are. Our team experience should solve any ballhandling problems,” Zahn added.
There appears to be good versatility on this Trojan squad. Dick, Davis, Howell, Leininger, Trine, Colbert and Malson can go at guard, and Blunck, Smith, Dowell, Hindman and Blackwood can go up front. But Howell and Trine could possibly go at forward, Smith might step in at guard and there are other combinations Zahn can call on.
The Trojans shot well from two-point range last year (.487), but were just fair (.310) on 3-pointers. Blunck (.440) and Davis (.430) were the most accurate at the regular distance, and Smith (.357) and Davis (.369) were the best from long range. TC free throw accuracy was mediocre (.694).
To this Zahn said: “The guys worked a lot on outside shooting in the offseason so this should be one of our strengths. But the 3-point shot will be a big part of our offense, and we have a lot of guys that can shoot it. I feel we’ll be a tough team to guard because we can score in so many different ways.”
Defense could be another major factor: “We’ll be very versatile and do a lot of different things to keep the opponent off-balance,” Zahn explained. “But defense is a mindset, and players have to be committed and finish every possession. Our winning depends on it,” he further explained.
TROJANS' SCHEDULE Friday at Tipton Saturday Hamilton Heights Dec. 21 at Madison-Grant Dec. 27 Elwood Dec. 28 at Taylor Jan. 3-4 at Clinton Central tourney Jan. 7 at Northwestern Jan. 10 Sheridan Jan. 11 Cass Jan. 17 at Rossville Jan. 18 at Lapel Jan. 24 Carroll Jan. 25 at Western Feb. 1 Manchester Feb. 7 at Clinton Central Feb. 8 at Maconaquah Feb. 13 Daleville Feb. 21 Clinton Prairie Feb. 28 Eastern