With a talented lineup and a string of regular-season success in the bank, the Columbus North boys basketball team has set its goals high this season.
“For us, we are at a place where we need to have postseason success,” head coach Jason Speer said. “That’s what we are looking toward.”
The Bull Dogs finished 19-6 this past season but lost in the sectional championship game. Speer and his players would like to hang that banner this season.
“The kids have worked extremely hard,” Speer said. “And the seniors we have this year have been part of a great rebuilding process.”
Speer enters his fifth season after taking over a program that had three head coaches in four seasons. He has wanted to bring stability to the program, and that has been accomplished. Now it is time to take the next step.
“There is nothing easy about being good,” Speer said. “There has been a tremendous buy-in by the school’s administration and the kids.”
The landscape of Indiana basketball makes that buy-in important because many of North’s competitors are working just as hard.
“The kids are getting better and better,” Speer said. “The commitment from the parents is greater now. These kids have basketball camps and lessons and AAU. I tell our kids all the time, ‘There are no easy wins ... ever.’”
The Bull Dogs are 56-32 during Speer’s first four seasons. “That’s pretty good for the schedule we play,” he said.
Now the focus is on taking the next step. “For us, we can’t beat ourselves,” Speer said. “We have to have a strong mind set to be determined on offense and to do the right things on defense. We want to play a relentless style of basketball and we want to play to our strengths. If you have size, and you understand the game, you want to get the ball inside. On defense, you have to make the right adjustments to the right schemes.”
Speer said North has the talent. “On paper, we don’t have any weaknesses,” he said. “Our size should be to our advantage, and we have kids who are flexible.”
Indeed, North’s size is impressive. In the opener at 7:30 p.m. today at Hauser, North will start a front line of 6-foot-8 Tori Jackson, 6-foot-7 Josh Speidel and 6-foot-6 Clint Cunningham. Even the guards, 6-foot-2 Evan Henry and 6-foot-4 Sawyer Glick, are big.
Henry, a junior, is a returning starter who will have a bigger role as a ball-handler this season. “He is a very tough kid physically and mentally,” Speer said. “He has an excellent shooting touch, and he can finish at the rim.”
Glick, a senior, was the team’s MVP last season, and he will be a leader again.
“He is relentless,” Speer said. “And he gets everyone involved.”
Speidel, a sophomore, gained valuable experience this past season playing varsity basketball as a freshman. “He could see what he needed to work on,” Speer said. “You can see how much stronger he is this year. He is a power forward who likes contact, but he also probably is our best passer.”
Cunningham is a senior who has made great strides and has become a solid ball-handler and shooter. “He is a match-up nightmare for teams,” Speer said. “He can take a bigger guy on the perimeter and he can post up a smaller guy.”
Also in the starting lineup will be Jackson, who was a wide receiver on the football team. “He is a very tough kid,” Speer said. “He is really long, and he finishes well around the basket. He is very good at blocking and changing shots. And he has a great work ethic.”
The Bull Dogs have a deep roster so Speer will be able to keep fresh bodies on the court. Senior guard Garrett Larson will be a sixth man who got starting experience a year ago. “He continues to become more aggressive offensively,” Speer said.
Elliott Welmer is a 6-foot-8 junior who played junior varsity this past season but has made a big move. “He is a very high percentage shooter,” Speer said.
Other players who will see time include 5-foot-9 senior Gabe Hilt, 6-foot-5 senior Chase Francoeur, 6-foot-4 senior Paul Salee, 6-foot-3 junior Christian Glass, 6-foot-7 Nick Littrell and 6-foot-5 senior Connor Oren.
Now it’s a matter of blending it all together. “I think we can be our own worst enemy,” Speer said. “We have to be a pass-first team that takes good shots.”