High Hopes / Experienced Bull Dogs looking for big things this winter

The return of several key pieces from last year’s 18-6 team is giving Columbus North boys basketball plenty of reasons for optimism heading into 2020-21.

The Bull Dogs return three full-time starters, plus a promising sophomore who was their sixth man as a freshman. Despite being limited because of COVID-19 shutdowns in the spring and early summer, they were able to play together in the fall and when practice began last week.

“We had a good first week,” North coach Paul Ferguson said. “Most of our varsity players were with us in the fall limited-contact session, so I feel like we’re pretty far ahead right now from where we’ve been in other years, given the number of players we had in the limited-contact sessions. We have a lot of experience returning, and we’re really excited to build off of last season.”

Back to lead the Bull Dogs is 6-foot-1 senior Blake Barker. Barker led North with 17.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals and added 3.1 assists a game last season.

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Barker went over the 1,000-point mark for his career last year and committed in August to play at Army.

“Blake is poised to have an outstanding senior season,” Ferguson said. “He’s worked very hard on his game over the offseason. He’s added size and strength. Just his competitiveness is a driving force for our team. Blake leads a group of seniors that are experienced and talented and committed.”

One of those seniors is 5-11 point guard Reese Harmon. Harmon, who is entering his third year as a starter, averaged 6.9 points last season and led the Bull Dogs with 4.3 assists.

“He’s a guy who’s played a lot of big varsity minutes for us and is another outstanding leader and talented point guard,” Ferguson said.

Jakub Trusina, a 6-2 senior, was a starter from the beginning of last season. He averaged 4.4 points and 2.0 assist.

“He has physically gotten stronger over the offseason, and he’s been a talented offensive player,” Ferguson said. “Our challenge to him is to become a better rebounder and defender, and he’s taken that challenge to heart and improved in those areas.”

Cooper Horn, a 6-2 sophomore, emerged as North’s third-leading scorer at 7.3 points a game as a freshman.

“He’s a very verstatile scorer and a high-IQ player,” Ferguson said. “We see him as a guy that can take some of the scoring load that we lost with Nicholas Schiavello.”

Max Wilson, a 6-1 senior, will look to play a more prominent role after seeing action in 17 varsity games last season.

“He’s had an excellent offseason and has continued to develop as a guard and is also an outstanding defender who continues to improve his all-around skills,” Ferguson said. “He’s a guy that we’re looking to play some very important minutes for us this year. He’s been very invested for four years and just has continued to get better.”

The Bull Dogs could go with a five-guard lineup with Wilson or use a bigger lineup with 6-6 junior Sam King or 6-3 senior Diing Diing in the middle. King and Diing played mostly at the JV level last season.

“We have some options there,” Ferguson said. “We’re going to play a lot of four-guard lineups this year. We may decide to play small at times. This is probably the deepest team I’ve had at the guard spot. We’re a little more limited on our size. We’ve worked on some combinations of playing smaller when necessary. Our guys are itching to play and get some minutes, given that they haven’t played much basketball in a couple months.”

Four other players — 5-11 junior Carson Dibble, 5-11 sophomore Ty Ferguson, 5-10 sophomore Luke Harmon and 6-4 junior Noah Abfall will start the season on JV and could dress varsity.

Two of North’s losses last season came against top-ranked Bloomington South, which lost its top three players, including Mr. Basketball Anthony Leal.

“Bloomington South has earned the right over the past few seasons to be considered the top dog in the sectional and conference until somebody beats them,” Ferguson said. “We’d like to earn that, but I know Bloomington North also had a young team last year, and they will be a formidable opponent in the conference and sectional, also.”

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The 2020-21 Columbus North boys basketball schedule:

Nov. 24;at Heritage Christian;7:30 p.m.

Nov. 27;at Jennings County;7:30 p.m.

Nov. 28;at Seymour;7:30 p.m.

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

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

Dec. 12;Fishers;7;30 p.m.

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

Dec. 19;at Scottsburg;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 22;Terre Haute South;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 29;vs. Crown Point in Noblesville Tournament;12:45 p.m.

Dec. 30;at Noblesville Tournament;TBA

Jan. 8;at Terre Haute North;8 p.m.

Jan. 9;vs. South Bend St. Joseph at New Castle;3 p.m.

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

Jan. 23;at Perry Meridian;4:30 p.m.

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

Jan. 30;Cathedral;7;30 p.m.

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

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

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

Feb. 20;Franklin;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 25;at Center Grove;7:30 p.m.