By Pedro Velazco
Northwestern boys basketball coach Jim Gish has seen the Purple Tigers graduate big classes and land on their feet the next season, but the challenge has never been quite as big as this season’s.
In Gish’s nine seasons, this much turnover is a first.
“We graduated nine seniors and all nine were such a crucial part of our team, really there are only two other guys that are returning that saw significant amounts of playing time,” he said.
The Tigers posted an 18-3 overall record and 6-1 Mid-Indiana Conference record last season. Their graduation losses included point guard Kylan Dubbels, a KT All-Area player.
Much is still up in the air. The team still has to find out which players adjust fastest and demand minutes. Until they get their feet wet, the Tigers won’t know how deep their rotation will be, or what they can bank on to be effective on the floor.
“It’s going to take some time for them to understand the speed of the game at the varsity level, the physicality of the game, and then on top of that, figure out how we want to do things ourselves,” Gish said.
He said the team has shown a good approach and work ethic in practice.
“One thing I’m confident with this group is they’re going to play hard,” he said. “I feel really good about that. They’ve been really keyed into doing the right things. They want to have success. They know they’re put into a position now where they are the guy. The other thing is we’ve gut several guys that are competing for positions. We’ve got a lot of equality in the group. So every guy, every day knows this is my chance to make a case for why I need to see minutes at the varsity level.”
The two main building blocks are 6-foot-3 senior guard/forward Trenton Brazel and 6-7 senior center Chase Johnson.
Brazel earned KT All-Area honors last season. He was the team’s second-leading scorer at 14.5 points, pulled down a team-best 6.3 rebounds and added 1.9 assists. He’s one of the more versatile players to suit up for the Tigers recently, showing the ability to score in the post, on rebounds, or take bigger defenders out high for drives or 3-pointers (hitting an area-best 43.9 percent from 3-land last season). Johnson averaged 10.2 points and 6.1 rebounds. An efficient player who takes up good positions in the paint, he shot a team-best 55.8 percent from the field.
“There’s a lot of responsibility placed on them,” Gish said of Brazel and Johnson. “I believe both boys are capable of handling the pressure of being a leader. Trenton is a die-hard gym rat, never leaves the gym. You can only be a leader if you demand more of yourself than you demand of your teammates. Trenton is the epitome of that. Initially, we’re asking them to essentially be coaches. We want them to be our eyes and ears as coaches, but we also want them to be very vocal about explaining to the guys what needs to be done and the pace it needs to be done.”
A third senior, 6-2 forward James Herrington, saw some time with the varsity last season, and three juniors also got in that mix: 6-2 forward Keagan Downey, 6-2 forward Graham Ortmann and 5-11 guard Logan Galbraith.
The newcomers include 5-10 junior guard Robert Olsen, 6-0 sophomore guard Jacob Wagner, 5-10 sophomore guard Blake Oakley, 6-3 sophomore forward Tyler Hudson, 5-9 sophomore guard Blaine Brutus and 6-2 junior forward Logan Macaluso.
The bulk of the team faces a steep learning curve.
“There’s such a big jump from each level, whether it be from junior high to freshmen, or freshmen to JV, but without a doubt the biggest jump is to the varsity level,” Gish said. “Most teams in the state of Indiana are going to put five guys on the floor who know how to play the game. You can’t take a play off. You can’t not know what your job is because it’s going to cost the team.”
Gish feels confident that the players will find their way.
“In my nine years as head coach, this is the first time I feel like we’re really starting from the ground up,” Gish said. “I feel like we have a lot to learn throughout the year but the thing I’m excited about with the group is I’ve seen nothing but the fact that they’re up for the challenge.”
JV games start at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted
Wednes. at Mad.-Grant
Saturday at Tri-Central +
Nov. 30 Western
Dec. 7 Taylor
Dec. 8 at Mississinewa
Dec. 14 at Maconaquah
Coca-Cola Old School Sectional at Kokomo
• Dec. 21 vs. Western
• Dec. 22 vs. TBD
Jan. 8 Frankfort
Jan. 18 at Cass
Jan. 22 at North Miami
Jan. 25 Carroll
Jan. 26 at Sheridan
Feb. 1 Tipton
Feb. 2 at S’wood, 6:15
Feb. 7 Peru
Feb. 12 Ham. Heights
Feb. 15 at Eastern
Feb. 16 at Twin Lakes
Feb. 19 Oak Hill
+ Girls-boys doubleheader, girls game starts at 6 p.m.