Editor's note: The Western-Northwestern game has been rescheduled for Jan. 12. The story has been updated to remove mention of the game, and the schedule has been updated to reflect the new date.
Northwestern’s boys basketball team has an almost entirely new look following heavy graduation losses.
“In my 17 years,” coach Jim Gish said, “this team is the most inexperienced team I’ve ever coached.”
The Tigers went 17-5 last season, but gone from that squad are six of the seven players who saw regular playing time. The Class of 2020 included Indiana All-Star and two-time KT All-Area MVP Tayson Parker, who finished his career with a school-record 1,723 points. That ranks No. 2 in Howard County history.
“Obviously, we lost a lot from last year — lost a lot of scoring, lost a lot of leadership,” Gish said. “We really only have one varsity player returning in Eli Edwards. As we’re underway, it seems every day there’s something new to teach.”
A rebuild is tough at any time. The pandemic has increased the challenge.
“There’s some inconsistencies this year that everybody has to deal with — kids in and out of practice for various reasons,” Gish said. “Losing June as everyone else did [was tough]. It’s just a huge part of what we do now. When you lose June, with an inexperienced team especially, it provides some challenges as we move into November.”
With Edwards, the Tigers have a proven player to build around. The 6-foot-5 junior post moved into the starting lineup last season and averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds per game and shot 71.4% from the field.
Otherwise, Gish is counting on a lot of players to make the jump from JV to fill varsity roles, and he is throwing a lot of information at them in the preseason.
“The learning curve has to be intense because offensively and defensively, the [varsity] game is a lot faster for them,” he said.
Edwards will anchor the inside game. Gish is looking at juniors Braydyn Bishop, Caden Lechner and Austin Robinson to also contribute inside. Bishop made 20 varsity appearances in a limited role last season.
In the all-new backcourt, senior Will Lovelace, sophomores A’marion Conyers and Mario Reed and freshman Quentin Yeakel are ball-handlers, and junior Callen Bennett and sophomore Hudson Harris are shooting guards. Senior Dylan Yeakel is a perimeter forward.
Offensively, the Tigers are a work in progress, and likely will be for a good stretch.
“We’re still trying to find an identity,” Gish said. “When you lose as much scoring as we lost, finding that identity is huge. Right now, it’s not glaring what has to be done as a unit for us all to have success.”
Gish is hoping the Tigers can lean on their defense while the offense develops.
“Each year, we think we can provide a team that’s going to work hard, and a lot of defense is working hard so we do believe that we have kids who can do that,” he said. “Again, it goes back to [fundamentals]. Right now, we’re trying to develop consistency.”
Northwestern opens against Madison-Grant on Tuesday. Gish said the Argylls are the opposite of his team.
“They’re going to start five seniors who have been playing since their freshman year,” he said. “We’re going to throw some guys into the fire.”
With Indiana dealing with another COVID wave, Gish is hoping for as close to a full season as possible.
“We’re going to have to take it day by day and week by week, but we’re really excited about the opportunity to play,” he said.
Gish owns a 241-117 career record.