Kokomo’s boys basketball program has hit the reset button. The team is young. The Wildkats have a few holdovers from last season, but just one senior and will have to find new vocal leaders and new scoring leaders.
And all that will be done while playing a new style under a new coach. Former Muncie Central and IPFW player John Peckinpaugh takes over after two seasons coaching Noblesville, which finished 11-11 last season.
“It’s been a fun transition,” said Peckinpaugh, whose wife, Haley, is in her second season as Kokomo’s girls hoops coach. “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know everybody in our program and our community. Kind of the neat thing about Kokomo is all the tradition and legacy that comes along with the program and how people still care about it and are passionate about Kokomo basketball.”
Peckinpaugh is taking over from previous coach Bob Wonnell, who has taken the job at Taylor. Kokomo finished 7-17 last season (3-6 in the North Central Conference) for its third straight losing season — the longest such streak in Kokomo history since 1913-15.
Of the eight players who were part of Kokomo’s regular rotation last season, five were seniors, and the player who would be leading returning scorer, Bobby Wonnell, has moved with his father to Taylor for his senior season.
“It’s a good situation,” Peckinpaugh said of the team’s youth. “A lot of the guys are just learning our system. They’re not really stuck in any type of mindset of ‘this is how we did it before’ since they’re all kind of new to varsity basketball. It’s kind of like a blank slate for us, which has been good.”
Two juniors who appeared in every game for the Kats last season return: 6-foot-2 guard Shayne Spear and 6-4 combo forward Patrick Hardimon. Spear started and is the leading returning scorer at 6.3 points per game as well as 3.9 rebounds per game and 1.8 assists per game. He hit a team-high 39 3-pointers. Hardimon added 4.7 points and 3.0 rebounds.
“Returning guys like Patrick Hardimon and Shayne Spear, both those guys played pretty good roles last year on the team,” Peckinpaugh said. “They know what it takes to win against teams in our conference. Relying on their leadership is going to be huge for us. I think we’re going to be able to throw it inside against some teams. It might be a little bit of an ugly game but we’re going to try and pound it inside and play inside-out.”
Kokomo has the size to play that way this season. Hardimon is big enough and mobile enough to play the small forward or power forward spots. Also joining the squad this season is 6-10 sophomore Flory Bidunga, an international student at KHS from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At guard spots are 6-0 junior point guard Zavion Bellamy and 5-9 sophomore Reis Beard.
Coming off the bench are 6-5 junior center Brandon Bennett, 6-5 sophomore forward Karson Rogers, 6-0 junior guard Jace Rayl, 5-8 freshman guard Zion Bellamy, 6-1 junior guard Deundre Kirby and the team’s only senior, 6-2 forward L.J. Gaines.
Peckinpaugh wants to play inside-out with motion offense to get the most makeable shot. He was a post player himself and walked into a situation where Kokomo has plenty of size.
He said playing with a post presence “kind of fits my personality and how I think the game should be played. We’re lucky as we start to build how we want to play that we’ve got those guys on the team.”
On the defensive end Peckinpaugh is looking for intensity.
“Defensively we’ll really get after it, kind of extend pressure and try to make teams uncomfortable,” he said. He expects teams on Kokomo’s schedule will be well-schooled at running their motion or sets. “We’ll try to take them out of that with our pressure and try to speed teams up and get them to play a more up-tempo style of play.”
With changes offensively and defensively, Peckinpaugh wants to lay a foundation this season. That means getting involved with the feeder programs, and getting the high school teams playing in his style.
“The big thing we’re working on now is the different style of play, that we’re buying in,” Peckinpaugh said. “We guard things a little differently than most people think about [so it’s important] just getting our guys to buy into those concepts and the details we’re teaching. I think we’ve had our two best practices this week. Guys are starting to get how hard they have to play in our system to make it successful.”
There’s one end product of that which will make Peckinpaugh happy.
“We always want to be the toughest team on the floor,” he said. “A wise man once said ‘the toughest team sets the rules’ so that’s what we will try to develop here.”