Tipton boys basketball coach Cliff Hawkins thinks fans will enjoy the new edition of the Blue Devils this winter. The team graduated four of its top six scorers from last season and has a lot of untested players moving into the rotation. But already the new unit is intriguing.
“We’ll be a team that’s exciting to watch because we are willing to share the basketball and get a good shot every time down, and yet still push the basketball and make sure people have to get back on us,” Hawkins said.
“Defensively, we’re going to be able to pressure the ball with a lot of different ways that we can do it, whether we extend [the floor] a little bit or do it in the halfcourt. And we have the ability to lock down and defend and rebound. It’s coming. We’ve just got some work to do.”
The Blue Devils got off to a late start last year due to COVID, and had an up-and-down season with two four-game winning streaks and two five-game losing streaks in a 10-13 season. That broke a run of 14 straight winning seasons.
This season the Blue Devils build offensively around some key holdovers and some promising newcomers.
Nate Powell, a 6-foot-4 senior inside player, is the leading returning scorer. He averaged 13.9 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game last season. He shot 63.9% from the field, which ranked No. 2 in the area. On the outside, 6-0 sophomore guard Nolan Swan averaged 7.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
“I think the thing that we’ll find with this team is this is a team that can move the ball very effectively and quickly up the floor and get to the other side of the floor with great ball reversals, and we have some real threats inside with Nate Powell and Sam Ridgeway,” Hawkins said. “From a ball-movement-together type of team, these guys really move the ball well and they like to get it up the floor quickly.
“The difference in this team is they don’t just push the ball up the floor and shoot quick. If they don’t have what they’re looking for, they’ll reverse it and all of the sudden we become a harder team to guard.”
Hawkins said of Powell, Ridgeway and Swan “there’s a lot going on with the potential of those three players.
“We’ve really got some nice guys to complement this group. We have a 6-4 freshman point guard named Grady Carpenter who can really handle it and get the ball to the open man. He gets the ball up the floor for us so much more quickly than what we could do a year ago. Aden Tolle will go inside-outside. We’ve got some nice perimeter guys in Aden, Maverick Conaway, Connor Hussong and Jackson Money.”
Ridgeway, a 6-8 senior post, averaged 2 points and 2.7 rebounds last season. Tolle, a 6-1 senior guard/forward, averaged 2.4 points. Both were part of the every-game rotation. Moving into the eight-player rotation are 6-1 junior Conaway, 6-3 junior Hussong and 5-11 sophomore Money.
Two more players with a chance to get floor time are 6-1 junior Clark Rodibaugh and 6-2 sophomore Gavin Hare.
“I think we’re going to be a good inside-out team,” Hawkins said. “If you try to double down on our big people, we’re going to nail it on the outside unbelievably because these guys really shoot the ball well.
“What we really hang our hat on is being a total team, a group of eight guys that care about each other. That allows them to do more things that maybe teams with more talent can’t do if they don’t have that togetherness.”
Collective responsibility about doing the gritty work is a theme. Hawkins said what needs work now is defensively not letting the ball get into gaps, help defense, and grasping the value of everyone blocking out on every possession.
Hawkins likes how the team is approaching the season.
“This is a team that wants to do something special,” he said. “I think every team starts the season talking of a winning season, conference goals, sectional championships, but I think the biggest expectation right now is we’re hungry every day we step across the line to practice, and we want to improve individually and collectively every day.”