YOUTH ENERGY

New Columbus North boys basketball coach Paul Ferguson knows he’ll begin the season with a young and inexperienced team.

That’s why Ferguson is using “Building for February” as one of his themes for this season. The sectional begins March 1.

“Other people know that we’re an inexperienced team right now, but that’s not going to be an excuse for us,” Ferguson said. “We’re committed to going out there and playing hard and trying to reach our potential as a team, and we’re not exactly sure what that is yet.”

Ferguson takes over for Jason Speer, who resigned after leading the Bull Dogs to a 16-8 record. North was 14-3 when it lost all-time leading scorer and eventual Indiana All-Star Josh Speidel to a traumatic brain injury resulting from a car accident. The Bull Dogs lost five of their final seven games.

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Speidel is recovering at home while still hoping to attend and play at Vermont next season. He graduated, along with fellow starters Kooper Glick, Trent Larson and Vince Grana.

That leaves 6-foot-8 junior Alex King as the only returning full-time starter. King, who averaged 5.3 points and 4.0 rebounds, has scholarship offers from Ball State, Indiana State, Toledo and Northern Kentucky.

“Alex has really rounded out his offensive game,” Ferguson said. “He’s become more of a complete player, and I’ve been really excited about his improvement on the little things in practice — his rebounding, his defense, his communication and his intensity. Alex can get it going.”

Mitchell Kelley, a 6-1 senior, stepped into a starting role after Speidel was injured last season. He averaged 1.8 points and 2.3 rebounds.

“He is a big-time competitor, and his toughness and athleticism adds so much to our group,” Ferguson said. “We’re counting on him to play some important minutes for us.”

North received a big boost before the season when 6-0 junior Nathan VanDeventer decided to come back for another year of basketball. The three-sport athlete had been away from the game this summer while focusing on baseball and tennis.

“Nate is a heady player and a very good shooter, so when he decided to return, the whole program was excited,” Ferguson said. “Guys were glad to have him back, and the coaches were, also.”

VanDeventer is battling for the point guard spot with 6-0 sophomores Trey Vincent and J.D. Harris. Those players, along with 6-2 sophomore Jaylon Flemmons saw varsity action at the end of last season.

“All of those guys have had a good first two weeks,” Ferguson said. “All are good athletes who know how to compete. We need to get them going more in terms of understanding our system and what we’re trying to do.”

Ferguson is counting on an improved Stephon Peters-Smith in the post. The 6-7 junior also saw varsity action at the end of last season.

“He had a tremendous offseason,” Ferguson said. “He’s a much-improved player. He’s a guy who can defend almost any position for us and is really developing his ability to get out and run the floor and finish around the basket.”

Two other juniors, 6-2 Zach Green and 6-6 Ethan Mitchell are recovering from minor knee injuries. Meanwhile, two standout football players, 6-5 senior Drew Schoeberl and 6-2 senior Alex Algee, are back after sitting out last basketball season.

“Both of those guys know what it takes to win big games,” Ferguson said. “They’re both very good athletes and very competitive. Anytime we can add guys like that who want to compete, we’re excited about that.”

Bailey Hester, a 5-11 sophomore, will split time between varsity and JV.

Ferguson hasn’t yet decided on a starting lineup.

“We told our guys that we’re going to bang it around these first two weeks and try to get a feel for who our starting lineup is,” Ferguson said. “I could see us potentially having a very fluid starting lineup the first couple of weeks of the season and changing that around a few times.”

The Bull Dogs open the season with a pair of home games this week. They play Heritage Christian on Tuesday and Hauser on Saturday.

“I’ve been very excited about our energy and enthusiasm at practice,” Ferguson said. “I feel like our team has been improving, and we’re excited for our first games.”

If you go

The 2015-16 Columbus North boys basketball schedule:

Tuesday;Heritage Christian;7:30 p.m.

Saturday;Hauser;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 4;at Shelbyville;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 5;at Martinsville;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 11;at Franklin Central;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 18;at Columbus East;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 19;at Terre Haute South;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 22;vs. West Lafayette Harrison at Marion;10 a.m.

Jan. 8;Terre Haute North;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 9;Jennings County;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 15;Mooresville;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 16;at Noblesville;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 23;Perry Meridian;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 29;at Southport;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 30;Whiteland;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 4;at Hamilton Southeastern;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 6;East Central;2:30 p.m.

Feb. 9;Franklin;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 12;Bloomington South;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 19;at Bloomington North;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 23;Seymour;7:30 p.m.

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.