Huntington, Ind. - With mainstays Tyler Shively and Kellen Zawadzki gone, it’s time for a new group of players to take charge of the Huntington University men’s basketball program.
Forester coach Ty Platt, who has just one upperclassman on the roster, is looking forward to seeing his young guys step into the limelight.
“I think there are a lot of unanswered questions about this team because we’re going to be so young,” Platt said. “We have some new guys coming in to the program that we’re counting on to make a big splash. I think we have a lot of talent and intelligence. We’ve got a lot of good things going for us. There are some guys who need to step up. It’s their turn.”
Shively and Zawadzki, both of whom scored more than 1,600 points in their careers, leave big shoes to fill. Zawadzki had nine 30-point games and averaged 22 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Shively hit for 19 points per night while making 171 of his 183 free throw attempts.
The duo helped Huntington to a 21-10 record a year ago, but the Foresters went 9-7 in the Mid-Central Conference and fell in the first round of the tourney, missing out on a bid to the national championship.
“It’s going to be hard to replace those two,” Platt said. “It’s not like we can go to two guys and tell them they have to fill that production. It’s going to be a collective effort.”
One way the Foresters plan to account for the departed scoring is by elevating their defensive game, something Platt acknowledges has been lacking in past years.
“We’ve got to give up less points,” Platt said. “Defense has never been something we’ve been known for, other than the fact that we can be scored on too easily at times. That’s the No. 1 concern for us right now. We’ve got to get better defensively, because we’re not going to be able to outscore people like we have tried to do in the past.”
Senior post player Caleb Kennedy, the lone elder statesman, will spearhead this year’s squad. Kennedy averaged 11.4 points last season and hit 49 percent of his shots. He played his best ball at the end of the year, reaching double figures in 13 of the final 15 games. Kennedy added 7.3 rebounds per game and had five double-doubles.
“It all starts with Caleb,” Platt said. “He’s a guy who’s put on a lot of strength this summer. He leads by example so well because of how hard he plays. In the last four or five years, I can’t think of anyone that’s gone harder than Caleb has. He just wants to give everything he’s got. His mental and physical approach to the game is something we’re going to lean on all year long.”
The sophomore foursome of Randall Lowe, Shane Merryman, Nick Teeter and T.J. Short will be relied on heavily this campaign.
Lowe played in all 31 games last season in a reserve role, averaging 2.2 points with a career-high of 14 against Grace. Merryman started 26 games and scored 6.6 points per contest while pulling down 3.5 rebounds. He hit 58 percent of his shots. Short (3.1 ppg) and Teeter (1.3 ppg) saw limited action a year ago.
“Those guys are going to get their opportunity to step up and show me what they’ve got,” Platt said, referring to the four sophomores. “This is their time to step up.”
Six rookies — Tyler Ault (Carroll), Alec Peterson (Carmel), Ryan Boester (DeKalb) and Justin Jantzi (Westview), Tyler Palmer (Northfield) and Isaiah Stephenson (Northside) — round out Huntington’s 11-man roster, meaning the rookies will be counted on early and often.
“The new players are going to have to grow up quickly,” Platt said. “It’s going to be trial-by-fire somewhat.”
On the Foresters’ schedule are both of the teams from last year’s NAIA Division-II National Championship Game, Saint Francis and Cornerstone. The Foresters and Cougars will meet twice in MCC play, and Cornerstone, the defending champs, travels to Huntington on Dec. 19.
The Foresters haven’t advanced to the national tournament since the 2006-07 season. Huntington’s recent campaigns have followed the same trend: Start fast, end slow.
Platt is looking to correct that this season and beefed up his pre-conference schedule in an effort to do so.
“The pre-conference schedule needs to get you ready to win in the MCC,” Platt said. “The past couple years we’ve had a great record at the end of the pre-conference schedule, but we haven’t been able to get it done in the conference. We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season.”
It’s business as usual in the MCC. Platt expects another balanced, stout league, and the addition of Mt. Vernon Nazarene doesn’t make it any easier.
“You have to start with Indiana Wesleyan and Grace as the two favorites,” Platt said. “Both had good seasons last year, and both return a lot of key components. After that, there’s probably four or five teams bunched together. I’d like to think we’re one of those teams. As always, the conference is going to be a real grind.”
Submitted by Austan Kas, Herald Press