9 A.M. Monday update
This story has been updated to correct the name of Damon Gearhart.
There will be some new faces leading area boys basketball programs this year.
Of the five area schools outside of Bartholomew County, four have new head coaches this season. Rob Kent takes over at Jennings County, Devin Burton steps in at Edinburgh, Maurice Buckner assumes the reins at South Decatur and Mike Lang takes the helm at Trinity Lutheran. Ronnie Lewis is back for his second season at Brown County.
Here is a look at those five schools heading into the 2023-24 season:
The Panthers went on a magical ride last year, going 24-3 and posting their first sectional and regional titles in 25 years. Former coach Josh Land moved into an assistant principal role, leaving the job to Kent, who was the star of that 1998 team and an assistant coach the past couple years.
“I took this job to repeat last year,” Kent said. “Last year, I think we had to manage the process. This year, I think we have to coach it a little more. But by the end of the year, my expectation is to have success. It’s hard for me to say we’re going to repeat something that hasn’t happened in 25 years, but we’re going to have that mentality this year.”
Only one of the top seven players return, but that is Kent’s son, 6-foot junior Carter Kent, who led Jennings in scoring last season. A shooting guard last year, he will assume some of the point guard responsibilities this season.
“I think he could be better off the ball,” Rob Kent said. “I tell everybody we can repeat the culture we had last year. I think Carter is going to be denied, trapped, box-and-one’d. We need to play him in different positions. So I think he will play off the ball as much as he would play the points.”
Cole Sigler, a 5-9 senior, saw varsity action last season. He will join Carter Kent in the backcourt, but will miss at least the first game while recovering from a broken hand in football season.
Austin Byford, a 6-6 senior, also saw some varsity action last year. Another 6-6 senior Dorian Hacker, transferred in after starting at South Decatur last year. The other starter likely will be 6-3 junior Ben Juraskovich.
Cash Millspaugh, a 5-10 sophomore, and 5-9 junior Logan Napier, who is coming back from two ACL tears, will see action. Will Barnes, a 5-10 senior, is playing high school basketball for the first time.
“He has some energy that if things aren’t going right, we can bring him in, and he’s that guy,” Rob Kent said. “He provides Parker Elmore(-type) energy.”
Elmore, a 6-5 sophomore, was the Panthers’ sixth man last year. But he tore an ACL during football season and likely will miss the entire basketball season.
“My thing with Parker is, his sister (Alivia) has experienced two of them,” Rob Kent said. “I know he wants to come back, but he’s going to University of Wisconsin this weekend for a (football) visit. He could come back March 8 if we win a sectional, but would it be worth putting him in for one weekend for a career that he could have a the next level?”
Burton, who played for the Lancers before graduating in 2011, takes over for Keith Witty, who took the Greenwood job.
“I’ve been super happy with my team so far,” Burton said. “We haven’t had a lot of time together because a lot of my kids are multi-sport athletes. But they’re all in the gym now, and they’re gelling together. We’re going to have a lot of new faces. It’s going to take some time for us to come together, but I’m happy with how we’re playing as a team right now.”
Connor Ramey, a 5-8 junior point guard, is the lone returning starter from a 13-10 team. Jackson Hartwell, a 6-1 junior, and 5-11 senior Austin Brockman also varsity action last season.
Moving into varsity roles this year are 6-1 junior Rylan Londeree, 6-0 junior Eli Smith, 5-7 sophomore Bailey Totten, 6-3 junior Lucas Seegers and 6-0 junior Milas Burkman.
“I have eight guys who I feel pretty confident can help us out,” Burton said. “I don’t know what our best lineup is going to be yet, but I can see any of those eight working their way into a lot of minutes.”
Buckner is a 2001 Columbus North graduate who went on to play at Lake Land Community College in Illinois and for the Indianapolis Diesel in the ABA and the Birmingham Sabres of the CBL. He was assistant under former Cougar coach Jason Hacker last year, when they went 13-12.
“We made some changes to our offensive strategy,” Buckner said. “We’re going to get up and down the floor. We want to create a high-intensity style of basketball.”
Jacob Scruggs, a 6-0 senior, returns for his fourth year as the starting point guard. Colby Rathburn, a 5-10 senior, and 5-10 sophomore Drake Skaggs also were starters last season.
The Cougars added a pair of transfers from Hauser in 6-3 senior Jamison Keller and 6-2 senior Taylen Absher. Also pushing for minutes will be 6-0 senior Jaylynn McMurray, 6-2 senior Alex Myers, 6-2 junior Lucas Ballard and 6-5 senior Damon Gearhart.
“The guys are gelling really well at this time,” Buckner said. “We get to pick up pretty much where we left off.”
The Eagles are looking to be vastly improved after going 0-23 last season.
“We’re going to be better than last year, no doubt about that,” Lewis said. “They’ve all bought in. They worked hard over the summer, and all year, really. We have our team goals, and we’re not trying to shoot for the moon here, but we’re definitely on the way up.”
Four full-time starters return in 6-0 sophomore point guard Cash Harden, 5-11 sophomore Eli Wrightsman was leading scorer, 6-3 junior Jesse Hubbard and 6-0 senior Brady Bond. The other spot could go to 5-11 senior Matt Horn.
Also seeing action last year were 6-1 sophomore Billy Hubbard, 5-11 junior Eli Harden, 6-1 junior Noah Lewis and 5-6 junior Logan Weis. A trio of freshmen — 5-10 Kyle Cobb, 6-3 Logan Sallee and 6-3 Waylon Reeves — could push for varsity minutes.
“Our energy level and buy-in has been through the roof, in my opinion, so we’ve been very pleased,” Ronnie Lewis said. “We’re still on the younger side this year.”
Lang, who spent the past 12 years as the Cougar girls coach, takes over for Brad Dickey following a 6-17 season.
“They have completely bought into everything that we are teaching,” Lang said. “It’s been a good couple weeks. We’ve had a lot of fun in here.”
Kowan Gross, a 6-2 senior, 6-0 senior Levi Pottschmidt and 5-9 sophomore Jack Stuckwisch are returning starters. Charlie Hackman, a 5-11 season, was injured the second half of last season.
Trinity has a pair of prominsing 6-0 freshmen in Hudson Lang and Reed Mellencamp. Also looking to contribute will be 6-1 senior Peyton Pollert and 6-3 junior Kade Gillaspie.
“We have four guys right now that have really been scoring at will in practice,” Mike Lang said. “They’ve asserted themselves and hit some 3s, and Kowan has asserted himself down low.”